Australian official under police guard over virus measures

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian health official revealed Monday that she has been under police guard because of death threats and growing public anger over pandemic border restrictions.

Queensland state Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she now travels with a police escort because of the threats.

“It has taken an enormous toll on me, but then this has taken an enormous toll on nearly every single person in our community,” Young told reporters.

“Every single person in our community in Queensland has had to give up an awful lot and we can’t see a clear end to this so we’re going to all have to work this through together,” she added.

The Queensland state government has been under mounting criticism for making travelers spend two weeks in hotel quarantine when they cross the state border from other parts of Australia. The restrictions have led to a number of high-profile incidents, including one last week in which a woman was not allowed out of quarantine to attend her father’s funeral.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk blamed Young for that case, which the national government used to ramp up pressure on the state government to relax its border restrictions.

The woman, Sarah Caisip, had wanted to see her father Bernard Prendergast but didn’t get a permit to travel from her home in Canberra until two days after he died. Canberra has not had a coronavirus case in more than two months.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a Liberal Party member, made a personal appeal to Palaszczuk, a Labor Party member, on the day of the funeral for Caisip to be allowed to attend, an approach that the state premier described as “intimidation” and “bullying.”

Caisip’s stepsister, Alexandra Prendergast, on Monday accused Morrison of turning their father’s funeral into a “media circus” to “advance his political agenda.”

“Your politics and media campaign against the Queensland premier have made a devastating time for my family even harder,” she wrote in an open letter to the prime minister.

Caisip, who was allowed a private viewing of her father’s body before he was cremated, welcomed the condolences from strangers that followed the media attention.

“I came from virus-free Canberra, so the fact that I’m even in quarantine is beyond belief but the fact that I am being denied my basic human rights to care for my grief-stricken mother and little 11-year-old sister enrages, disgusts and devastates me at the same time,” Caisip wrote in an open letter to Palaszczuk before the funeral.

Brisbane lawyer James Stevens took up the campaign again Palaszczuk on Sunday by paying for a plane to fly to the state capital, Brisbane, from neighboring Gold Coast towing a banner that said: “SHE IS HEARTLESS.”

Stevens said he is prepared to fly the banner every week until Palaszczuk’s government seeks re-election on Oct. 31.

“I’m not political,” Stevens said from a Brisbane hotel room where he is in quarantine following a trip from Sydney. “But this has got to stop.”

“She has exhibited a real callousness, a cold-hearted attitude to people’s suffering and problems,” Stevens said.

Public anger also focused last week on the case of Brisbane cancer patient Mark Kearns. His sister, Tamara Langborne, said the family had been told last week that only one of his four children would be allowed to cross the border from New South Wales to visit him.

His mother, Rhonda Langborne, said Queensland health authorities have since relented and allowed Kearns’ children, their mother, his siblings and parents to cross the border next weekend.

They are to be held in hotel quarantine except when they visit Kearns while wearing full personal protective equipment.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has argued that Queensland’s tough restrictions are not based on medical advice but are aimed at making political gains for the state government ahead of next month’s election.

He has been critical that Hollywood actor Tom Hanks has been allowed to quarantine in his resort of choice since he arrived in Queensland last week to shoot a movie at Gold Coast city.

Shooting of the Buz Luhrmann-directed movie about Elvis Presley was shut down in March when Hanks, who plays the singer’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Young wrote to the Australian government in June supporting the application for Hanks and 11 other cast and crew members from the United States, Britain and Italy to be allowed into the country.

“I have given exemptions for people in entertainment and film because that’s bringing a lot of money into this state and, can I say, we need every single dollar in our state,” she said last week, attracting criticism that her expertise was not economics.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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