Man in quarantine ‘forced to take taxi to hospital’
A Brisbane man who had returned from Melbourne in the peak of its months-long lockdown claims he was forced to catch a taxi on two occasions from hospital while in mandatory state imposed hotel quarantine - despite not yet returning a negative result to COVID-19.
Joshua Walker, aged in his 20s, had been working in inner city Melbourne during the height of the country's COVID-19 pandemic in August - while the southern state had been thrust into hard lockdown after recording hundreds of coronavirus related deaths.
The information comes to light as The Courier-Mail yesterday revealed a police investigation had been launched in relation to an alleged quarantine breach at a Gold Coast hotel.
Mr Walker, who had returned to Brisbane on August 6 via aeroplane, had been placed into quarantine at Rydges Hotel in South Bank where days later, an unrelated medical incident would require two visits to hospital.
According to Mr Walker, he was on two occasions transported via ambulance from his hotel, however, both times was forced to catch a taxi back to quarantine.
He said he had not yet been tested for COVID-19 and was unsure on his health status at the time - a claim he later made to Queensland Health in an email.
"It was a little bit strange being able to catch a taxi, especially when the onus is on the fact that everyone is effectively positive until proven otherwise, and at the time I'd had no COVID tests and no results," Mr Walker told The Courier-Mail.
"I complied. I was cautioned that when I left the hotel that if I didn't return, I would be in breach of a public health direction and there would be a warrant issued for my arrest."
The information comes to light after The Courier-Mail yesterday revealed a quarantine guest staying at a Gold Coast Hotel was able to catch a taxi to a convenience store, while only weeks earlier, Queensland Health slammed suggestions travellers in hotel quarantine were able to catch taxis.
At the time, a statement issued by the Department said: "Quarantine guests are transported to and from the hospital by Queensland Ambulance Service, who have been safely transporting hotel quarantine guests for almost a year."
While on January 15, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young fronted the media where she claimed all patients required to leave quarantine for any reason were treated as if they were positive for COVID-19.
"So when they get to the hospital, the hospital treats them as if they are positive," she said when asked about the processes.
"Anyone in hotel quarantine who needs urgent medical care is taken to hospital in an ambulance, and, if not admitted, returned to quarantine in an ambulance, with appropriate PPE and safety protocols in place."
However, Queensland Health's own policy is contradictory of this statement.
Written into the publicly available guidelines on hotel quarantine, the policy explains how people in hotel or home quarantine may be required to travel for limited health or safety reasons.
The options for transportation, as listed on the state government policy include: "private vehicle"; "a taxi with a protective shield between driver and passenger or a taxi van that allows for physical distancing between the driver and passenger"; "ambulance service"; "transport arranged by a government authority", or more notably: "a taxi or ride share with the person wearing a protective mask and sitting in the seat on the passenger side."
When Queensland Health was questioned in relation to their policy, as well as asked to provide comment into how Mr Walker was able to catch a taxi on two occasions - despite coming from a government declared hotspot and not yet returning a negative result for COVID-19, a spokesperson said the approach in relation to COVID-19 had changed.
"COVID-19 thrust the world into unchartered waters, where we have remained quick and agile in our approach to responding to the global pandemic. This includes adapting our approach and the way we respond to the challenges COVID has placed on our community, and we have absolutely changed our approach in the 18 weeks since August 2020."
There was no further clarification in relation to policy changes on taxi or ride share usage while in quarantine, nor was their clarity on what policy was in place at the time.
Taxi Council Queensland (TCQ) CEO Blair Davies said he was "concerned" taxi drivers were transporting people to and from hotel quarantine.
"We have raised the query of taking passengers to and back from the hotels with the government about a week ago and we're still waiting for a response," he said.
"It's a concern. We want to make sure that cab drivers, just like anybody else, can earn an income and return home safely to their family and friends."
Mr Davies said TCQ were pushing to have taxi drivers vaccinated against the virus promptly, and was hopeful taxis and transport workers would be listed as a high priority, behind healthcare workers and the elderly.
"In the case of the pandemic, we want our drivers to be able to provide these services safely."
Shadow Health Minister Ros Bates called for consistency in quarantine rules, claiming the misdirection had cast doubt on Queenslanders' trust in the system.
"The rules around Queensland's quarantine system must be the same for everyone with no exceptions," Ms Bates said.
"They must also be consistent.
"The recent confusion and misdirection around this issue is eroding Queenslanders trust in the system.
"It is vital that trust is rebuilt immediately so Queenslanders can be confident that the system works and they are safe."
Following Mr Walker's stint in hotel quarantine, he wrote to Queensland Health in an email dated January 6, 2021.
Within the email, Mr Walker included information about his direction to catch a taxi on two occasions- sending the department excerpts from his journal logs while in quarantine.
"Ended up going to the Mater Hospital via ambulance as this was the only way to see a doctor," he wrote on August 11- day 5 of his quarantine stay.
"Spent the night there until 8am on the 12th. The police just said to jump in a taxi to get back once finished. Seems a little strange process considering the dire necessity to ensure that people are escorted and watched all the time."
His email to Queensland Health continued, where he outlined his second taxi trip from hospital on August 14, while two days after his final taxi ride from hospital, Mr Walker finally tested negative to COVID-19.
"Received my negative COVID test, which was great," he noted on August 16.
Mr Walker told The Courier-Mail he couldn't recall if he'd worn a mask on the first occasion he caught a taxi, but did say on the second instance, a staff member at the Princess Alexandra Hospital handed him two masks.
"Definitely the PA handed me a mask for myself and a mask to hand to the taxi driver," he said.
"I don't recall (what happened at) the Mater. I'd been in there all night. If I was handed a mask for myself, it would have been worn though."
He said he was concerned the onus fell on him to ensure the taxi driver's safety, and said it should not be the passenger's responsibility to provide PPE to the driver.
"It's ridiculous that someone who could potentially be carrying the virus was told to hand a mask to the driver," he said.
"If I had the virus on my hands, what's to say I didn't directly pass that onto the driver by touching the mask, which he then put on his face?."
Originally published as Man in quarantine 'forced to take taxi to hospital'