Family's fear at coronavirus testing clinic opening on busy residential street

Olivia Lambert
News Editor

Residents in a Sydney suburb fear they’ll be exposed to the coronavirus after they received a letter informing them of a testing facility opening in a residential street.

The clinic is projected to open on busy Elliott Street in the inner west suburb of Balmain next week, just days after residents were informed by the government.

But locals have hit out at the plans for the facility – which is being set up across the road from a popular reserve – saying it heightens the risk of families contracting the virus which has killed 28 people in the country and infected more than 5000 so far.

Residents receive surprising letter

Residents on Wednesday received a letter from Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, informing them of the testing centre, which is expected to attract about 150 patients each day.

Kate and Peter Carr with children Toby, 4, Xavier, 3, Adelaide, 1, and Oliver, 6. Source: Supplied

“I’m writing to let you know that a GP respiratory clinic is being established in your local area to help test and treat patients with mild to moderate symptoms,” the letter said.

“They are specifically designed to test and treat the 80 per cent of COVID-19 patients who will experience only mild to moderate fevers and respiratory conditions.”

The letter went on to say the centres played a valuable role to ensure hospitals were not overrun with coronavirus patients.

“These GP led clinics – ensuring they will offer the highest quality of care and treatment – and are being established with the highest standards of infection prevention and control, and being quality assured by experts in the field.”

The letter finishes by saying the government “hopes and trusts” residents will be supportive of the operation of the clinic that will “significantly enhance the safety of the whole community”.

‘Why would you risk this?’

Mum of four Kate Carr told Yahoo News Australia residents were baffled as to why the government would establish a testing facility in the “middle of a concrete jungle”.

“We’re not against people seeking help but why put it in the middle of a really popular, dense residential area?” she said.

“There’s no parking and these people shouldn’t have to walk 200 metres because they can’t get a park either. There has to be somewhere there could be a drive-through facility. Why Balmain? It’s only a little wardrobe.”

The building on Elliott Street being converted into the testing centre is also home to another local business, meaning those in the office would share an entrance with the medical facility.

Ms Carr said residents were also concerned individuals and families who visited the adjacent park would be exposing themselves to COVID-19.

Some Balmain residents received a letter informing them of the testing clinic. Source: Supplied

“The illness starts as quite asymptomatic,” she said.

“I’d like to be able to see residue of the illness floating around because we’d be in the middle of that cloud.

“Why would you risk having this virus which is so transmissible smack bang in the middle of a high density population?

“It’s now a case of I won’t have my boys running around doing four laps of the park – it’s not healthy for anyone.

“The stress is high already – when you walk down the street people are already narky if you walk too close to them.”

The testing clinic that will open in Elliott Street in Balmain. Source: Realestate.com.au

Ms Carr said having the facility in an already populated street would likely not adhere to strict social distancing guidelines, where people are required to stay at least 1.5 metres away from each other.

“It doesn’t make sense – why should we have to lock up the front doors and gates to avoid cross-contamination?” she said.

‘We thought it was an April Fools joke’

Ms Carr said residents were only given a letter informing them the facility was moving in if they answered knocks on the door. Otherwise letters were not dropped in letterboxes or left on door steps.

“We didn’t get any consultation. If you weren’t there to open the door you didn’t receive a letter,” she said.

“There was a letter given to about two out of 10 neighbours and it became a door knock of people saying, ‘did you see this’.

“We don’t understand it. People said maybe it was an April Fools Joke and a lot of us thought, ‘oh maybe it is’ because it was so ridiculous.”

NSW Balmain MP Jamie Parker agreed Elliott Street was not a suitable location for the testing clinic.

“These clinics are incredibly important but they must have adequate facilities including off-street parking, an entrance that is not shared with other tenants, as well as sufficient space for social distancing to protect medical staff, patients and the wider community,” he told Yahoo News Australia in a statement.

Residents suggested a better place for the facility could have been the White Bay Cruise Terminal in Rozelle, which has the capacity to hold 2000 people and parking.

Others questioned why it could not be more secluded like the Bondi pop-up testing facility, which has been established at the Bondi Pavilion opposite the beach, which has been closed.

Yahoo News Australia has contacted the Department of Health for comment.

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