WA hospital staff, patients in isolation

·3-min read

Dozens of hospital staff and patients who may have been exposed to coronavirus in regional Western Australia have been ordered to isolate in a backflip by authorities.

It comes after an infected ship crewman spent up to three hours in the emergency department at Geraldton Hospital before being moved to a negative pressure room.

The man in his 50s was airlifted to Perth and remains in a stable condition at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. WA Health has confirmed he is intensive care.

Twenty-five staff, 18 patients and eight visitors at Geraldton Hospital have been ordered to quarantine until they return negative coronavirus tests.

They had already been classed as casual contacts and asked to get tested, but were initially told they would not have to isolate. That decision was reversed on Thursday following a meeting between government and health officials.

"The medical advice is any risk is minuscule," Premier Mark McGowan told reporters.

"But in the interests of public confidence, we won't be taking any chances here."

Upon returning a negative test, staff members will be allowed to return to work but must wear face masks at all times.

They will also undergo daily saliva tests.

Mr McGowan said the crewman "probably would have died" if his ship, which has since departed, hadn't been allowed to unload him for treatment at Geraldton.

It emerged on Wednesday that a separate staff member at the hospital was in quarantine after entering a lift used by the infected crewman.

The hospital worker wasn't involved in the patient's transfer but had inadvertently used the lift before it had been appropriately cleaned. They were not wearing personal protective equipment.

Authorities say the vaccinated staff member was sent home to isolate immediately and didn't have any contact with the community.

They will be required to quarantine for 14 days and return three negative tests.

The state opposition has questioned why the crewman was not immediately placed into isolation, blaming the government for failing to implement proper safeguards at regional hospitals.

"With WA still battling with regular COVID-19 breaches in recent months ... you have to wonder why WA was not better prepared given the lessons learned in the past year," opposition regional health spokesman Martin Aldridge said.

Mr McGowan said protocols would be reviewed at all major regional health centres.

"Obviously in the case of Geraldton, they haven't had any cases. This was an unexpected event," he said.

"But I would have liked to have seen precautions put in place."

The crewman was hospitalised in Geraldton, 420km north of Perth, after falling ill while aboard an empty bulk carrier over the weekend.

The MV Emerald Indah has since departed for Indonesia after being blocked from docking in WA.

Federal authorities cleared the vessel to leave after the ship's master provided a medical assessment declaring the crew were fit and ready for voyage.

"This is the result we wanted," Mr McGowan said.

"It's a safe sensible outcome that ensures the health and safety of West Australians is protected"

The ship had spent several days lingering off the coast of Kwinana, south of Perth, where it had been due to make a wheat collection.

It was forced to leave after WA police chief and state emergency coordinator Chris Dawson signed an emergency order preventing the ship from docking at Kwinana.

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