A passenger who was on board the Tigerair flight with a man infected by the coronavirus says she is yet to be contacted by health officials, and found out she could be at risk through friends on Instagram.
International student Manuela, who is studying English on the Gold Coast, was one of 172 passengers on Monday’s potentially infected Tigerair flight TT566 from Melbourne to the Gold Coast.
The 18-year-old phoned Queensland Health immediately after realising she was on the flight in question.
Despite warnings explaining a possible two-week incubation for people exposed to the infection the student said the health department simply advised her to “be more hygienic” and go about her business.
“I was concerned because I’ve been reading things about how big of an issue this is, and how authorities are worrying about people that were on the plane,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
Assured she poses no risk to the public
Manuela decided she would take herself to the hospital anyway, given widely shared public information encouraging anyone who had come in contact with the virus to seek urgent medical attention.
“They gave me an evaluation and I stayed there for three hours while they did testing. They said I was fine and that I could go home.”
She asked several times if it was safe for her to continue attending classes, and was assured that she posed no risk to the public and would be fine going back to her daily life.
“I was thinking it’s possible I didn’t have symptoms because of the incubation period, and if I go to school I’m worried I could infect other people. I think it’s a bit irresponsible.”
Opting to self-isolate
The teenager has decided to remain in self-isolation for at least 10 days to ensure the risk of passing the infection on is minimised.
“I’m still waiting on some advice on what to do,” she said.
“When I found out I was on the flight, I was thinking they would put me in quarantine. So I thought when I got to the hospital they would isolate me for at least 15 days. I was really worried.
“They were taking things very lightly, especially because it’s a big world-wide issue. They treated me like it was a normal thing.”
She said when she first arrived, doctors entered her room donned in complete protective-wear, but after checking her for symptoms they removed it all.
Testing involved a check of her blood pressure, breathing and fever – all of which returned a clear result.
“They just told me if I started to feel bad to call the number again or go back to the hospital.”
‘No one contacted me’
Manuela fears there may be some passengers from the same flight who may not know about the risk and may not have been checked yet.
“No one contacted me so I assume they also didn’t contact anyone else on the flight,” she said.
Maggie Raworth, a 9News reporter, was also on the flight and told Today that she too was unsure of what action to take amid a lack of communication from Queensland Health.
“Yesterday afternoon, after I found out, I called Queensland Health. They told me I was at risk, that I should go home immediately and self-isolate myself,” Ms Raworth said.
“And then late yesterday I called once again and it's now changed. They are saying I am at a low risk and I should go about my business as per usual. But it's quite confusing. I was on that flight. And I just don't really know what to do.”
‘No checks at the airports’
The emotional strain of the experience has not been easy for Manuela, who has been in Australia for just seven months and has limited contact with her family in Colombia.
“I don’t have family here, and some of my friends know but they’re really scared. I feel totally alone,” Manuela said.
The teen said the apparent urgency and severity of the crisis had not been evident in her travel experience, given there was no screening conducted at either the Melbourne or Gold Coast airports.
“They didn’t check anything, they let everyone go on the plane without any precautions.”
Manuela was in Melbourne for the Australian Open among hundreds of thousands of local and international attendees.
The World Health Organisation declared on Friday the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
The death toll from the virus had increased to 213 as of Friday – all in China, with over 9400 people being treated worldwide, an offical from China told AFP.
Australia confirmed its ninth case on Thursday, while the US announced human to human transmission of the virus had occurred within the country.
A Queensland Health spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia the department was “in the process of contacting everyone who was aboard Tiger Airways flight #TT566”.
“This includes contacting passengers two rows in front of, two rows behind and immediately adjacent to the two confirmed cases.
“All other passengers are being advised that if they develop symptoms such as fever, coughing and breathing difficulties to isolate themselves from others and contact their local doctor or seek medical care at the hospital immediately.
“They need to call the doctor or hospital ahead of time to tell them they have been exposed to novel coronavirus so necessary precautions can be taken. We are taking all necessary precautions.”
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