The Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council has backed the Queensland government's decision to keep strict border restrictions in place, stressing the importance of the health protections they provide for vulnerable First Nations communities.
The support comes as the Northern Territory government prepares to open its borders to all New South Wales residents from October 9, a call that has heightened fears that a potential outbreak of COVID-19 in remote Indigenous Australia would devastate Aboriginal communities.
The Mayor of Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council, Elvie Sandow, told NITV News that with the problematic life expectancy of Indigenous people, her number one priority is protecting her community and its Elders.
“The majority of our population has some sort of chronic illness already, one case of COVID-19 coming through the community could completely wipe us out, which is why it’s really important to keep the borders closed," Ms Sandow said.
“There are also long-term issues that come with contracting coronavirus, like organ damage and ongoing respiratory issues. Our people don’t need to deal with that."
Ms Sandow said she wants to avoid another lockdown “at all costs” after a checkpoint and strict rules that required permits for Indigenous people to leave the community left residents rattled after being enforced for several months at the height of Australia’s COVID19 crisis.
“We don’t want to go back to that, it brought back bad memories for our community and it really affected them emotionally," she said.
Ms Sandow said that the community will support the Palaszczuk government’s calls for strict border closures “for as long as needed” and would not be happy to see the borders reopen before the introduction of a vaccine.
Deputy CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Dawne Casey, told NITV News that she believed measures identified by the NT and QLD Aboriginal community-controlled health sector must be put in place to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities before any border restrictions were to be eased.
“These communities will need to be in contact with their local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Service for ongoing updates and measures to follow,” Ms Casey said.