Covid-19 plus bush fires equals major problem

THE combined economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak and the bush fires have kept visitors away from Australia and nowhere is this more acutely felt than north Queensland.

The chief executive of the region’s industry peak body Tourism Tropical North Queensland said the Cairns economy was projected to have suffered a $300m loss of revenue for the first quarter of this year.

Sheila Rodden from Creeslough has been working as a doctor at Cairns Hospital for the past five years. She studied and worked in Northern Ireland and spent a year in Altnagelvin Hospital before leaving for Australia in August 2015. She came to Cairns initially for one year and has been there since.


Earlier this week there were four active cases of coronavirus in the Cairns region.

“Everyone is adhering to social distancing which was enforced quite early in Australia. Like most places the city is very quiet. The borders are closed between states. If essential travel is required between states a period of two weeks self isolation is required. We continue to work in hospital as usual,” Dr Rodden said.

“There are not many Covid cases in Cairns, although the testing criteria did change when there was evidence of community spread.

“Unfortunately within the last fortnight a staff member contracted the virus. There has been five further staff members affected. Thankfully they remain stable and in quarantine at home. The hospital has now enforced a strict screening policy,” she added.

Australian healthcare has public and private systems. There is a 1% levy taken from all wages for the public healthcare system regardless of earnings. This is increased to 2% at a specific salary level, it is not taken out if you have private health insurance with hospital cover.

“Since Covid the structure of the medical department in the public hospital has changed. Sub speciality doctors have been redeployed to work in fever clinics and Covid wards. Outpatient clinics have been changed to phone or telehealth reviews if possible. Urgent procedures are still carried out,” she said.

“Most of my family are still in Donegal spread out over Creeslough, Letterkenny and Buncrana. A few have gone further afield like myself to Australia and Wellington,” she added.


Like so many other ex-pats Dr Rodden keeps a keen interest on what’s happening back home.

“Advice for back home? Just keep following recommended guidelines (in Ireland there is daily sensible factual communication, not ‘sarcasm’!). Hopefully things will improve soon.

“I was home last year for a month, we got great weather. We were planning a trip back again this summer but that is on the back burner for now,” she said.


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