Two houses have been allocated for returning male and female students to isolate separately on Badu Island in the Torres Strait. (Supplied)
Torres Strait Islands residents fear they will be unable to stick to new lockdown rules when children return from boarding school because their homes are already massively overcrowded.
- In the Torres Strait, entire households may have to quarantine together if alternative arrangements can’t be found for students returning from mainland Australia
- The region has restricted all non-essential travel in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus to the community
- One island community decided to take initiative and quarantine school kids ahead of Queensland Health advice
On Monday, the Torres Shire Council announced a complete ban on all non-essential travel to and from the Torres Strait in efforts to delay the spread of coronavirus to the region.
CEO Dalassa Yorkston said all boarding school students must also go into immediate self-isolation for 14 days on advice from Queensland Health.
“They must find an alternative location for self-isolation if elderly family members or persons with health conditions reside in the home,” Ms Yorkston said.
But members of the community said the directive would be impossible for some families to achieve.
A long-term Thursday Island resident, who did not wish to be identified, said the majority of houses in the region were overcrowded.
“It’s not even unreasonable … it’s impossible,” she said.
“You couldn’t reasonably expect families to self-isolate in these sorts of places. And most houses will have people living there that are definitely at risk.”
Year 10 student Hezekiah Tamwoy is keen to see his cousins and brothers once he’s finished his 14 days of self-isolation on Badu Island. (ABC Far North: Marian Faa )
The woman said her granddaughter returning from school in Brisbane last week was in an unusual position to have an alternative place to self-isolate, with 17 people residing in her family home at times and a mother with multiple health conditions.
When asked how students were expected to self-isolate in overcrowded houses, Leichardt MP Warren Entsch said entire families would have to quarantine together.
“Whoever is part of that family group stays within that family group,” Mr Entsch said.
“The whole family isolates.”
The Thursday Island resident said there should have been better coordination surrounding the travel of school students from mainland Australia, with many having returned before the advice to quarantine.
“If you really wanted to seriously quarantine you would have to have a whole community approach that had to have isolated areas,” she said.
‘We’re not ready’: fears for elderly on remote island
On the remote island of Badu, local families have taken matters into their own hands to do exactly that.
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Badu mother, Matilda Nona, said six recently-returned boarding school students were currently quarantined in two houses on the island.
She said there was no systems or protocols put in place by Queensland Health or other government authorities and local leadership was in flux due to local council elections.
“At the moment we as a community are just doing things on our own … we’ve just taken matters into our own hands,” she said.
Ms Nona said the Badu community was extremely concerned about coronavirus infiltrating the community, which had many vulnerable residents and limited health facilities.
Matilda Nona says the Torres Strait community of Badu Island isn’t prepared if coronavirus hits. (Supplied)
“We’re not ready, we don’t even have a hospital on the island,” she said.
“If we get sick we have to be medevaced to Thursday Island, which has closed its border. And Thursday Island only has four beds in the ICU.”
Ms Nona has started sewing her own face marks to protect herself and relatives from coronavirus.
“We don’t have antiseptic in our shops even to mop our houses,” she said.
“I am afraid for all our elders. They’re our living history books and I don’t want them to die,” she said.
She said as soon as all students had returned, the island would go into lockdown and people wouldn’t be allowed in or out.
School kids anxious to return home
Remaining students at an Indigenous boarding house in Cairns are due to fly back to the Torres Strait this morning.
AFL Cape York House boys house manager, Kane Richters, said it was extremely difficult to coordinate travel for Indigenous students to the current high demand for ABSTUDY travel assistance across the country.
“It became apparent to use that it was really urgent for us to try and do everything possible and find alternative means to get students home,” he said.
Mr Richters said yesterday more than 200 Indigenous boarders were still trying to return to communities across Cape York and the Torres Strait.
“When the first case arrived in Cairns last week that escalated the fear not only with the boys here but also with the families,” he said.
“They’re just keen to get home.”
AFL Cape York House students learn social distancing practices as they prepare to return to their homes in the Torres Strait today. (ABC Far North: Marian Faa )
Year 10 student Hezekiah Tamwoy said the delays had been frustrating, and he was looking forward to getting back to Badu Island.
“For safety reasons (I want to go home) but it’s kind of not a very good thing for educational reasons,” he said.
“But it’s been very supportive to have your brothers alongside you to support you, and also staff.”
The students have been learning social distancing protocols and other techniques to limit viral transmission as they prepare to return to their homes.
“I’ll be isolated for 14 days by quarantine up in Badu and hopefully do some studying in my free time,” he said.
“We don’t want to harm our elderly people because they’re the ones with the knowledge. If we lose that knowledge we won’t have it to pass on to our younger generation.”