ABC South East - Covid-19

ABC South East - Covid-19 Main Image

12 January 2022



JEN HUNT, HOST: Like thousands of others federal Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain and her family contracted COVID-19, just a few days into the New Year. Fortunately, she's recovered somewhat and able to take our call this morning. Hi, Kristy, how are you doing?

KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Good morning, Jen. Not how I thought I would be starting 2022. But as you just said, there are thousands of people and thousands of families across the country going through the same thing at the moment. We're no different to anyone else. 

HUNT: Can you take us back to how it played out for you and your family?

MCBAIN: For me, the initial symptoms were somewhat like hay fever. I didn't actually think too much of it at that stage. My husband had a cough, which was one of the things that alerted us to try to get a rapid test just to make sure because we have family members in the vulnerable category. We wanted to make sure that before we saw some family members that we knew what our status was. As for the kids, the two oldest ones in particular, had headaches and were a bit feverish and one of them vomited. I actually thought that was just part of the summer period with the late nights and really busy days, I and didn't think too much about it. But luckily for us, a friend that was visiting from Melbourne had brought some additional rapid tests with her, and she dropped one off at the house. We did it and almost immediately, we had two lines, indicating we had COVID. We then had to start the ring around of people that we'd seen in the last few days to make them aware and a number of friends had also contracted COVID as well.

HUNT: So it seems like essentially the family all pretty much went down together or did you try to separate?

MCBAIN: No all five of us were together. My husband and I both did the rapid tests and after those were positive, we all jumped in the car and went and did a PCR test. All five of us returned positive results.

HUNT: Then in terms of support and help while the family was dealing with the disease, how did you manage?

MCBAIN: We're extremely lucky, we've obviously grown up in the area, and I've got family and friends in the area. So we were really lucky that Woolworths was doing deliveries and were able to get contactless delivery to the door. And those additional bits and pieces from the chemist and some of the things that get missed when you're doing an online shop, people were able to drop off for us. We had people ringing and texting to check in on us. We’re really lucky that in small communities we know a lot of people and we had one of our local GPs send a message just to check in, because we also have an asthmatic in the family. We were trying to get as much information as possible over those initial few days and just deal with the symptoms as they were coming up for different members of the family and everyone experienced different symptoms at different times. And thankfully everyone is starting to recover but again the recovery happens at different times as well.

HUNT: I mean, you're someone who knows how to find information. How do you regard the support and information that was available to you?

MCBAIN: After you do a PCR test, you're given A4 leaflet on a range of different things, including if you do test positive and how to register your results. And then information also comes as part of the text message. I have the ability to research online, but even I found some of the online information confusing. It's no small feat to try to get concrete answers, which is one of the reasons we've put out a frequently asked questions post on my social media because it's really hard to find concrete answers. Like many people are now discovering it is hard to find a rapid test as well. So I've had the ability to do that but I have found information confusing.

HUNT: Now that you've had this personal experience, well continue to have it,as hopefully you and all of your family recover well. What do you take forward? In terms of your day job as federal Member for Eden-Monaro? What do you want to see change?

MCBAIN: Look, it's really clear to me that two years into this pandemic, we should have been much further advanced in our planning. There was a national plan that was being rolled out, and there was a move away from PCR tests. Which means, obviously, if you want people to be able to live with the virus, they need to be able to test much quicker. This is why we had agreed and moved towards rapid antigen testing. Those moves were being agreed to and made in September last year, and we should have been much, much quicker in organising supplies of rapid antigen tests into the country. I mean, we have companies in Australia who developed rapid antigen tests in Queensland, they now sell all of their products to the US because the Australian Government didn't agree to buy those tests. And that was early last year. There are a number of things that need to be done, which aren't being done, because there's just a lack of planning. And I think, right across the coast at the moment, up to the mountains, where we rely on an influx of people for tourist season, they're really feeling the effects of this. Much better planning and the rollout of rapid antigen tests should have been done as a priority across the country and the tests needed to be heavily subsidised through Medicare or given out for free. We know other countries across the world are doing this. In the UK, tests are being mailed to home addresses so that people can manage and live with the virus. At the moment, I think we have failed to get ahead of this curve. And we should have seen it all coming. 

HUNT: The federal government did make or have made a commitment that concession card holders will be able to access 10 rapid antigen tests for free. I'm not sure what the supply issues are like on that. But I guess that some movement has happened in that space. Are you concerned that New South Wales is not capturing the rapid antigen test data at this stage?

MCBAIN: That's a another big issue at the moment, we haven’t actually been getting the data through correctly, because we weren't capturing the data from rapid agent tests. This means that people probably haven’t being pinged as COVID alerts through their Service NSW app. Although you no longer have to get a PCR test to confirm that rapid test, at the moment, there's a big hole or a lack of information coming through to people who are trying to do the right thing, who are trying to get tested and isolate themselves and their families. But that there needs to be a much quicker turnaround, to getting information out to people, it's, as I said, two years into this pandemic, we knew that this was coming. All of these things should have been properly planned and implemented months ago.

HUNT: One of the other consequences of the current surges, we are seeing the impacts on business, either in terms of staff shortages, or indeed supply issues. Logistically, what are the answers? Where do you see this going? And what could actually alleviate the pressure?

MCBAIN: We're into our third interrupted Summer now. We've had the Black Summer Bushfires, we've had last year the North Sydney outbreak which led to the Victorians leaving our area right in the peak of Summer and then this year we’re again having massive issues with the virus. The number of people affected has caused staff shortages across the region and holidaymakers having to isolate while they’re here. So again, it hasn’t been an easy Summer for a lot of people and our businesses on the coast. We’re also seeing real supply issues cropping up all over the place as workers are testing positive. We know there is a supply chain between a warehouse and the end point of distribution and what we are seeing is truck drivers again being worked to the bone. The Transport Workers Union wrote to the Prime Minister in September last year, requesting rapid antigen testing for long haul truck drivers so that if the virus was to kick off, they would be able to put themselves ahead of that curve by getting rapid tests and not having to wait for PCR tests to move. And again, that didn't happen. We have to deal with this because, businesses and communities, especially regional communities - we rely on that distribution network. 

HUNT: Kristy McBain we are coming up to the news. But another big factor in the weeks to come is the return to schools and now the vaccination program for 5 to 11-year-olds. You're a mum of school aged kids, what's your message to parents listening?

MCBAIN: Look, it's obviously really important. I don't think anyone's immune from this virus and it does affect people very, very differently. So if you have the ability to I'd say please book a vaccination for your children. I've got my children booked in but we won't be able to get in until February because there's still a supply issue with these vaccines as well but please book your appointments. Our health care workers are doing their very best in this trying time. Through the GP clinics, the hospitals, the pharmacies, everyone's trying their very best in what's been a pretty trying two years.

HUNT: Indeed it has, we are not through it yet. Kristy I do appreciate you taking time for us this morning and we wish all of your family a speedy recovery and take the time it needs. Kristy McBain, the federal Member for Eden-Monaro.