Stunning admission on Tom Hanks’ VIP treatment
A series of heartbreaking cases of denied border exemptions has exposed the cruel reality of Queensland's harsh border stance, as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk caused a national outcry for refusing to act to allow a woman to attend her father's funeral.
At the same time Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young made the astonishing admission that special treatment was given to Hollywood actor Tom Hanks because "entertainment and film bring a lot of money into this state".
The Courier-Mail can reveal Prime Minister Scott Morrison, his office or colleagues have had to plea for a slew of cases to be reconsidered, including parents separated from their newborn son for days, a woman seeking follow-up appointments for her breast cancer surgery and a man who wished to farewell his mother before she died.
There were harrowing images of the 26-year-old woman dressed in full personal protective equipment, including a face-shield over a medical mask, when she was eventually allowed to have a private viewing of her father's body - isolated from her mother and 11-year-old sister.
The extraordinary case of Sarah Caisip desperately seeking a chance to farewell her father captured national attention yesterday.
She had sought to travel north to surprise her dying dad for Father's Day, but only received permission to enter Brisbane last Friday - two days after he died.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made personal and public appeals to Ms Palaszczuk to let Ms Caisip leave quarantine to attend the funeral, breaking down in tears on radio as he urged compassion be shown, saying "just today, please".
Ms Palaszczuk made the extraordinary claim Mr Morrison had tried to bully her over the heartbreaking case, while saying she had no power to overrule Dr Young's decision.
She said there were political motivations for the request, despite the ACT's Labor chief minister Andrew Barr also making representations on the case.
It had been 145 days since the last case of community transmission in the ACT and 62 since any case was recorded.
In a heartbreaking letter to the Premier, Ms Caisip wrote how she had to "fight to get back into my home city to see him before he died, but sadly it was too late".
"Do you or your health 'experts' know what effect this is having on my sister, who is only in Grade 6 and who is starting high school next year?" she wrote.
Mr Morrison, who called Ms Caisip to offer his condolences, said he was "mystified at the discretion not exercised".
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He called Ms Palaszczuk to make the case for the young woman, but went public after she raised it in Parliament.
Mr Morrison, whose own father died in January this year, became emotional as he asked for her case to be considered.
"She missed that opportunity (to see him before he died) and this is her last opportunity to say farewell to a dad now," he told 4BC.
"It was Father's Day on the weekend, and I'm just thinking of Sarah had to go through that day in a hotel in isolation and there she is today."
Ms Palaszczuk also said she would not be "bullied" or "intimidated" by the Prime Minister, who she said she had told in a phone call that it was not a decision for her to make and that she would pass information on to the Chief Health Officer.
"No one likes the fact that we are in a global pandemic. No one likes to hear these tragic personal stories," the Premier said.
"Tragically, families have been prevented from going and seeing their loved ones right across the country. This is not unique to Queensland."
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington asked the Premier if she would show some compassion and let Ms Caisip leave quarantine to farewell her father at the service.
"When someone like the Prime Minister of Australia appeals to you as Premier, to your leadership for compassion, that's not bullying," she said.
A Queensland Health spokesman confirmed that only the Chief Health Officer had the power to grant exemptions, not the Premier.
Dr Young said funerals were extremely high risk for transmission of the virus, with recent clusters in Sydney traced back to funerals.
She said while there had been no cases in the ACT for more than two months, it was "in the middle of NSW" and there had been "a lot of cases in Bateman's Bay", a popular holiday spot for Canberrans.
The last COVID-19 case in Bateman's Bay was in mid-August, but Dr Young said they were "trying to project two weeks in advance".
"I do not want to see in Queensland any risk of people attending a funeral, getting exposed, getting COVID-19 and then going back to a vulnerable setting. That would be terrible," she said.
Asked about exemptions for those such as Hollywood star Tom Hanks, who was allowed to self-isolate at a resort of his choice rather than follow the usual process, Dr Young said there were economic reasons because "we need every single dollar in our state".
"I have given exemptions from people in entertainment and film because that is bringing a lot of money into this state," she said.
THE HARD CASES
■ A couple from northern NSW had their newborn son airlifted to a Brisbane hospital. The parents were told the only way they could enter Queensland to be with him was via a 14-day quarantine. They were separated for four days before the baby was returned to NSW.
■ A man whose mother passed away has been seeking an exemption from quarantine to attend her funeral and support his elderly father. He was not granted an exemption earlier to visit before she died. He was allowed to cross the border because he was in the border bubble, but the hospital was outside the bubble.
■ A breast cancer patient who had surgery in a Queensland hospital has been due for a follow up appointment, but has not received a response for her quarantine exemption request.
■ A woman from a region in NSW with no COVID-19 whose sister was sexually assaulted was granted an exemption to travel north to comfort her. But she was placed into hotel quarantine, which was not stated in the terms of her exemption.
■ The father of a girl in Queensland who was having a lump removed from her mouth was denied entry at the border, despite having a border pass and a letter from the doctor. He applied for an exemption, but never received a response.
■ One woman was given an exemption to travel to Brisbane to visit her terminally ill father in hospital, but when he was discharged to his home she was initially not allowed to travel and see him at the different location.
Originally published as Stunning admission on Tom Hanks' VIP treatment