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Grey nomads left out in the cold as sunshine state border remains closed

By Jackson Peck, Thursday June 4, 2020 - 11:49 EST
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Gwen and Bill Houlihan usually head north to escape cold Albury winters — but not this year. - ABC

Hundreds of grey nomads who usually spend winter in Queensland for health reasons are stuck at home due to coronavirus restrictions as the cold creeps up.

Albury couple Bill and Gwen Houlihan would usually be in the sunshine state by now to avoid the first frosty mornings of the season but the border remains closed.

"I have osteoarthritis. It's getting worse, especially in my hands. I just get cold all the time," Ms Houlihan said.

They've been migrating for winter for more than a decade.

"Usually, the coldest it's been up there is about 10 or 12 and then it warms up quickly … it cools down at night but not that bad that you can't go for a walk," Ms Houlihan said.

She said a quarter of the residents in her retirement village usually went north to escape the winter — but not this year.

What the doctor ordered

Albury GP Rebecca McGowan knew this well and said many of her retired patients would usually have left the area by now.

"They look forward to it every year … and it's for physical reasons and mental health reasons," Dr McGowan said.

"We know that arthritis can be worse in the cold … for other people with chronic lung conditions they find that being here in the winter, the cold air can really set off their lungs."

Dr McGowan said she often "prescribed" a trip to warmer weather.

"If I can give you a script, I'm going to give you a script for four months. Go up to the coast and go into the warmth," she said.

"From the mental health point of view, particularly this year, they've been closed within four walls and they want to get out."

Change of plans

Now with restrictions easing, the Houlihans were getting ready to head to northern New South Wales where they had friends.

"Within the next two weeks, we'll pack up and leave and we'll slowly work our way to the Queensland border. Then we'll just wait until it's opened," Mr Houlihan said.

South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have also closed their borders to stop the spread of COVID-19 from the worst-hit states.

Queensland's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the border may not open until September because the community transmission rates of the virus in New South Wales and Victoria were too high.

Dr McGowan said one benefit from the coronavirus pandemic had been the increased use of telehealth.

"Lots of my patients, when they go, they often have difficulties accessing general practice … [now] if they have a problem they can ring me and it can be just the same as if they were sitting in their house in isolation here in Albury," she said.

"We can convert it to a video consultation whereas four months ago most people wouldn't have known how to use Zoom or set up a connection."


© ABC 2020

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