Mike Mills-Thom is back open for business today after testing negative for coronavirus. Photo by Trevor Veale
Mike Mills-Thom is back open for business today after testing negative for coronavirus. Photo by Trevor Veale

Cleared of virus, businessman makes heartfelt plea

"It feels like I'm playing Russian roulette and every chamber has a bullet in it - no matter what I do it's going to hurt."

Mike Mills-Thoms has just reopened the doors of his long-running Coffs Harbour business after testing negative for coronavirus.

Mills-Thom's Mechanical Repairs was established by Mike's parents back in the mid 1970s.

Just over a week ago he took what was seen at the time as the extremely precautious measure of closing his doors after coming down with flu-like symptoms.

"We were two days ahead of the curve and it seemed like at the time we closed, it was a bit of an abstract move, but only two days later people were agreeing saying 's..t yeah, that's what you've got to do'."

Mike and his partner Robyn both had sore throats and 38 degree temperatures but hadn't travelled overseas within the previous 14 days so did not fit the general COVID-19 testing criteria.

"We got sick and I am not talking about a little sniffle; we got very sick with very high temperatures."


Mike Mills-Thom. Photo by Trevor Veale
Mike Mills-Thom. Photo by Trevor Veale

After making the tough call to close he started ringing around to all his customers, including a number of campervan hire companies. That was when he learnt one of the vans in his workshop had been used by a German couple who had recently travelled to America and were currently unwell.

"The reason we were not tested originally is that we didn't fit any of the parameters. There was a delay of about two to three days before we knew (about the German couple).

"There was a fair bit of hearsay going around about it, but that was the trigger to be able to be tested."

Regardless of that trigger he says it was still the right decision to close the doors.

"I have parents in my 80s to think about and all of my staff. It was a community decision.

I look after vans that travel all over the country. I didn't want to be the vector for anything.

"If you didn't test and you were positive the rage would be insurmountable."

After consulting with staff yesterday he reopened the doors today with a range of new measures in place.

"We are operating in a very different environment now. We've changed seating arrangements in the waiting room and cleaning it after each customer.

"There is a 1.5 metre barrier around the front counter so people don't lean on the counter and get too close to my office staff and obviously we've got the mechanics working in separate bays so they're not sweating on each other."

Mike is well known and respected in the community for his community minded approach. He has made this humble plea as the community grapples with this unfolding crisis:

"I am a very blessed individual - enormously lucky and have been enormously well supported by not only my family but the community. All the good stuff I've got has come from the community.

"We need to trust in this social contract and honour our social commitment and look after each other."

Ever the optimist he says we can count our lucky stars the pandemic did not hit at the height of winter.

"Seriously you wait until June. I don't mean to be alarmist but we are very lucky this has come when it's warm. Imagine if it was in middle of winter. We've got to count our blessings and do what we can."

He is also urging calm and patience.

"Politicians keep saying it all the time - we are all going to take a hit but we just have to relax.

"It's achievable to get through this but it's not going to go away in three weeks."