For three days, a town was in crisis after the death of a man dubbed Australia’s youngest COVID victim. Now leaked emails show authorities knew the truth.
For three days, a town was in crisis after the death of a man dubbed Australia’s youngest COVID victim. Now leaked emails show authorities knew the truth.

Secret emails expose ‘virus’ death stuff-up in regional town

A man dubbed Australia's youngest COVID victim never actually had the virus at all, and now emails show authorities didn't bother to tell anyone - even his grieving family - for three days.

The regional Queensland town of Blackwater went into panic mode after Nathan Turner, 30, was found dead in his home on May 26.

Authorities said Mr Turner had tested positive for COVID-19, sparking widespread testing among the close-knit community and forcing Mr Turner's family to go into isolation. This reading later turned out to be false.

Today, it has been revealed in leaked emails that senior officials - including chief health officer Jeannette Young and now deputy chief health officer Sonya Bennett - received the negative results on May 29 but kept residents in the dark until June 1.

In the three days that passed, there were tense scenes in the town as residents turned on each other and there were massive lines for testing.

Mr Turner's grieving fiancee Simone Devon and other close contacts were kept in quarantine until the final autopsy results were announced on the Monday evening.

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Nathan Turner was dubbed Australia’s youngest COVID victim.
Nathan Turner was dubbed Australia’s youngest COVID victim.

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The leaked emails, obtained by 9 News, show that on May 28, Dr Young and Dr Bennett learned a retested sample had failed to detect COVID-19, with a blood test, among other tests, proving negative the following day.

Despite the growing body of evidence, the case was then referred on for an autopsy on Friday, May 29.

However, when the results came back three days later, the coroner cited the prior reports.

"Further extensive and more specialised testing before autopsy was conducted by a forensic and scientific services pathologist and those tests have all returned a repeated negative result to COVID-19," the email reads.

"As a result of the extensive further specialised testing I advise that at present, despite significant and widespread reporting, cause of death is confirmed as not being related to the COVID-19 virus."

On the Monday morning, Dr Bennett sent an email asking the team if "we were aware" the serology results they had received on May 29 had been negative.

With the town still in panic mode, the public did not learn the news until later that evening.

Health Minister Steven Miles has denied that his department mishandled the information, saying the public were alerted as soon as they knew of the new information.

The case was of huge concern to health authorities at the time as it could have shown that coronavirus was circulating within the community rather than within specific groups, such as travellers returning from overseas.

It was so baffling that sewage in the central Queensland town was sifted through to try and determine whether COVID-19 was present in the town of 5000.

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Health Minister Steven Miles has denied that his department mishandled the information. Picture: Darren England/AAP
Health Minister Steven Miles has denied that his department mishandled the information. Picture: Darren England/AAP

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Testing the sewage could reveal how many people in Blackwater may have been exposed or unknowingly have the virus if traces were detected in the waste.

The spotlight fell on a nurse at a Rockhampton nursing home who had continued to work despite having coronavirus symptoms and awaiting results. She was suspended from her role.

The nurse took a sightseeing road trip to Blackwater during lockdown, reportedly to "see a sunset" but insisted she hadn't come into contact with the man.

Following Mr Turner's death, 500 Blackwater locals were tested for coronavirus, including Ms Devon, and none came up positive.

A friend of Mr Turner told The Australian he was a "larrikin and always the life of the party".

"He was a funny, kind person who always had time for his mates."

Other friends flocked to his Facebook page to post tributes to the young miner.

One friend said he was "shocked" to hear the tragic news.

"You were a top bloke and always knew how to make your friends smile. Fly high buddy and thoughts to your loved ones," they wrote.

Know more? benjamin.graham@news.com.au

Originally published as Secret emails expose 'virus' death stuff-up