Forbes Vandenberg Hotel in regional NSW closes due to Melbourne couple Covid scare – costing $7k


A country publican is reeling after a ‘selfish’ couple spent up to four hours in their venue while infected with COVID-19, forcing the business to shut down on one of the biggest nights of the year.

Kim Fetherstone, who owns the Vandenberg Hotel in Forbes, in New South Wales’ Central West, closed her pub for deep cleaning when she discovered a Victorian woman and her husband had dined there while infectious.

Ms Featherstone says the closure, on State of Origin night, cost her at least $7,000. 

Her entire staff has been ordered to be tested and Ms Fetherstone has no plans to reopen until each one of them returns a negative result, so as not to potentially put her vulnerable community at risk.

The infected couple escaped Victoria’s ‘circuit breaker’ Covid lockdown on June 1  and went on a 1,900km road trip through several vulnerable regional communities. 

Shane Patton, Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, said police are investigating whether the couple may have been moving interstate and had a legitimate reason to travel.

Drive through testing clinics have been set up out the front of the Vandenberg Hotel in Forbes after news that a Covid infected couple travelled through

Drive through testing clinics have been set up out the front of the Vandenberg Hotel in Forbes after news that a Covid infected couple travelled through

Health authorities in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland are scrambling to track down hundreds of people who may have been exposed to the virus during their interstate trip

Health authorities in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland are scrambling to track down hundreds of people who may have been exposed to the virus during their interstate trip

Kim Fetherstone, who owns the Vandenberg Hotel in Forbes, in New South Wales' Central West, closed her pub for deep cleaning when she discovered a Victorian woman and her husband had dined there while infectious

Kim Fetherstone, who owns the Vandenberg Hotel in Forbes, in New South Wales’ Central West, closed her pub for deep cleaning when she discovered a Victorian woman and her husband had dined there while infectious

There are also concerns the couple may have lied on their border declaration passes. 

‘It’s ridiculous. And it’s selfish,’ Ms Fetherstone said on Thursday morning. ‘This doesn’t just affect me, but it impacts so many of us in town.’

After a particularly tough year due to the pandemic, she and her staff had ‘heavily promoted’ the State of Origin NRL game, trying their best to lure townsfolk on what is already their busiest night of the week.

Wednesday nights are cheap steak nights at the Vandenberg Hotel and attract many of their regulars.

With the added potential of customers coming to watch the football game on a big screen, Ms Fetherstone estimates she would have earned about $7,000 during the dinner rush.

That alone is a tough pill to swallow.

Kim Fetherstone, who owns the Vandenberg Hotel in the small Central West town, lost out on at least $7,000 worth of business on State of Origin night after closing her doors when she learned the couple had spent four hours while potentially infectious at her venue

Kim Fetherstone, who owns the Vandenberg Hotel in the small Central West town, lost out on at least $7,000 worth of business on State of Origin night after closing her doors when she learned the couple had spent four hours while potentially infectious at her venue

Two other cafes in regional NSW towns have been impacted by the Covid scare

Two other cafes in regional NSW towns have been impacted by the Covid scare

‘It’s impacted us so greatly. It’s tough as it is in a small country town without people coming through and doing this.’

Ms Fetherstone and her staff learned they would be named as an exposure site just five minutes before the media was briefed on the situation. 

At 5.30pm, less than three hours out from Origin and at the start of their dinner shift, she made the decision to close up shop.

On Thursday, authorities turned the front of her business into a Covid testing centre for worried locals.

In total, 11 venues across four towns in regional NSW, all of which are now on high alert for symptoms. 

Three states are scrambling to contain a potential Covid outbreak after an infected woman left locked-down Melbourne and drove through NSW to the Sunshine Coast (Mooloolaba pictured)

Three states are scrambling to contain a potential Covid outbreak after an infected woman left locked-down Melbourne and drove through NSW to the Sunshine Coast (Mooloolaba pictured)

Cafe Omega closed on Thursday for a deep clean after a Covid-infected couple attended twice

Cafe Omega closed on Thursday for a deep clean after a Covid-infected couple attended twice

Health authorities in Victoria, NSW and Queensland are scrambling to track down hundreds of people who may have been exposed to the virus during the couple’s interstate trip.

The woman, 44, tested positive on Wednesday but may have been infectious from the day she left Melbourne on June 1, which was already in lockdown.

On Thursday morning, Queensland Health confirmed her husband had also contracted the virus.

The couple are both in Sunshine Coast University Hospital.  

Police are investigating whether the couple crossed the NSW-Queensland border at the remote rural town of Goondiwindi on June 5 in a bid to evade authorities.

The Brew Coffee & Juice Bar say it is unlikely the couple spent three hours in the venue

The Brew Coffee & Juice Bar say it is unlikely the couple spent three hours in the venue

Sunny's Cafe at Moffat Beach (pictured) on the Sunshine Coast was also identified as an exposure venue after the couple dined there between 2.45-3pm on June 6, one day after arriving in Queensland

Sunny’s Cafe at Moffat Beach (pictured) on the Sunshine Coast was also identified as an exposure venue after the couple dined there between 2.45-3pm on June 6, one day after arriving in Queensland

The couple likely drove the scenic route so they could avoid passing through the Gold Coast – where police perform 100 random intercepts a day with strict border control measures in place.

There are also reports the woman lied on her declaration form when entering Queensland, sparking a chorus of public outrage.  

Sunny’s Cafe at Moffat Beach on the Sunshine Coast was also identified as an exposure venue after the couple dined there between 2.45-3pm on June 6, one day after arriving in Queensland.

The manager on duty said four staff at the small cafe have been tested and are in isolation.

If any return a positive test, the entire cafe will be forced to close for at least 14 days.

‘No one expected this,’ the manager said. ‘We have a lot of tourists on the weekends and you chat with them but you’re not exactly quizzing them on where they’ve come from or what they’re doing here.’

Despite the added stress of wondering whether they will be without an income for two weeks, management refuse to pass judgement on the couple. 

‘I hope they’ve got a valid reason,’ she said. ‘I can’t imagine what that valid reason could be, but they’re still people at the end of the day. And they’ve done the wrong thing but we just have to hope now that it all is okay in the end.’     

It’s understood the woman broke lockdown to visit her family in nearby Caloundra.

She had been experiencing symptoms – including loss of her sense of smell – from June 3 but only sought a test on June 8.

In an extraordinary twist, the pair were only detected when they came forward for testing because the husband needed negative results for work purposes. 

Five close contacts of the couple remain in isolation, quarantining at a house together on the Sunshine Coast.  

Sunny's Cafe at Moffat Beach on the Sunshine Coast was also identified as an exposure venue after the couple dined there between 2.45-3pm on June 6, one day after arriving in Queensland

Sunny’s Cafe at Moffat Beach on the Sunshine Coast was also identified as an exposure venue after the couple dined there between 2.45-3pm on June 6, one day after arriving in Queensland

The couple crossed the NSW/Queensland border at the remote town of Goondiwindi, four hours inland of the Gold Coast where police are much more strict with their patrols

The couple crossed the NSW/Queensland border at the remote town of Goondiwindi, four hours inland of the Gold Coast where police are much more strict with their patrols

Victorians were forbidden from travelling more than five kilometres from home at the time the couple began their trip on June 1.

NSW did not shut its border with Victoria, but any travellers from the state were supposed to abide by the lockdown rules even in NSW.

Queensland required all Victorian arrivals to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine. 

Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said Queensland Police would investigate how the couple were able to enter the Sunshine State. 

‘We’ll examine all those issues around passes – whether they were appropriate and what has happened – it is too early to say,’ he said.

‘It’s really important for us to remind the whole community that we cannot possibly check every single person moving around the country.’   

VENUES ON ALERT ACROSS NSW AND QUEENSLAND AS INFECTED WOMAN’S TIMELINE IS REVEALED 

June 1: 

Left Melbourne and drove across the border to regional New South Wales

10.30-11am: Gillenbah, Caltex Narrandera

6pm-10pm: Forbes, Vandenberg Hotel

June 2: 

7-10am: Forbes, Brew Coffee Bar

10.30-11.30am: Dubbo, Shell Petrol Station 

11.30am-2.30pm: Dubbo, Church Street Cafe

6-10pm: Dubbo, Reading Cinemas

June 3:

Midnight-10am: Dubbo, Homestead Motel 

1.30-4.30pm: Moree, Cafe Omega 

From 1.45pm onwards: Moree, Gwydir Carpark/Motel & Thermal Pools

3.30-4.30pm: Moree, Woolworths 

June 4:

All day until 7.30am June 5 : Moree, Gwydir Carpark/Motel & Thermal Pools

7-9.30am: Moree, Cafe Omega

11.50-2pm: Moree, Cafe Omega

4.30-11pm: Moree, Amaroo Tavern 

June 5:

Arrived at Goondiwindi border and crossed into Queensland

7.35-7.50am: Goondiwindi, McDonalds

11-11.15am: Toowoomba, Caltex

June 6:

Travelled to Sunshine Coast

2.45-3pm: Moffat Beach, Sunny’s

3.30 – 4.30pm: Coffee Cat in Kings Beach 

June 7:

10.45-11.30am: Stockland Caloundra Shopping Centre – Coffee Club and Kmart stores

12.10 – 12.45pm: Caloundra, Bunnings

1-2pm: Buddina, Kawana Shoppingworld

June 8:

3.50-4pm: Caloundra, Baringa IGA

 



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