• There are concerns that widespread transmission in the APY Lands could have an devastating impact on community. (APY Land Council)Source: APY Land Council
The APY Lands will close their borders from midnight tonight in response to a growing COVID-19 cluster in Adelaide.
Sarah Collard

17 Nov 2020 - 5:13 PM  UPDATED 17 Nov 2020 - 5:13 PM

The Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands will close their borders from midnight Tuesday in response to a growing COVID-19 cluster in Adelaide. 

The APY Lands covers vast areas in the north west of the South Australia and is home to more than 2,500 people. 

According to the APY Lands general manager, Richard King, they are facing their greatest threat since the start of the spread of COVID-19 in Australia in January. 

Mr King said many in the community have been watching how the pandemic is devastating the United States and other parts of the world. 

“A lot of the traditional people are using their mobile phones to see what's happening in the world. They know what's going on in America. And they know all of this, and they are using that to educate one another," he said.

“When you get a virus like this, that really attacks those diseases that we are faced with, then we need to act now.” 

He said hundreds of people travel into Adelaide to visit family, shop and access services but urged people to return home or shelter in place and that once it goes into lockdown people will need to quarantine for two weeks. 

“We are very concerned because for many, at any one time we have up to 200 people down in Adelaide for health reasons and visiting family, and at this time of year doing shopping.”

The COVID-19 cluster in Adelaide’s northern suburbs has now grown to 20 people - with a toddler being the youngest infected and the eldest being a woman in her 80s. 

There are now 35 active cases of coronavirus in the state after more than seven months of no community transmission in South Australia. 

Indigenous women and children camping near Adelaide after being stranded outside of closed APY Lands
When access to the APY Lands was restricted in February to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a group of Indigenous women and children were locked out of their remote communities and are now being accommodated at a campsite near Adelaide.

Mr King said the outbreak highlights the danger of the virus and the ongoing risk it poses to remote Indigenous communities.

“I'm very proud of the way Indigenous Australia has stepped up and confronted this. We've been aware for a long time that we ourselves are very vulnerable,” 

Mr King said the community would abide by the latest restrictions which are aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, including reintroducing caps on visitors, funerals and events. 

"We'll continue to follow any restrictions put out by the state government. The South Australian state government and Mr. Marshall have done fantastically in protecting all South Australians. The public health team have just been brilliant," he said.

 "It's really important that we come in strong, and make sure that we protect everyone, because, you know, every time as it's shown all around the world, complacency is the thing we're guarding against here."  

Arrernte woman and head of the NACCHO, Pat Turner said Indigenous people have led the way in ensuring the virus stays out of vulnerable communities, but that she had serious concerns with how the quarantine arrangements were being enforced by the South Australian government. 

“They think this originated in one of those medi-hotels. So that means that the quarantine arrangement and the infectious disease, management of infection spread is not up to scratch,” Ms Turner said. 

“The state health department has to be absolutely rigorous in making sure that they can prevent infection. It's called infection control. They have to have all the measures to ensure that people are not infecting others."

She said Indigenous peoples understand acutely the affects the virus poses for communities most at risk and urged people to keep practicing COVID-19 safe measures. 

“We are very worried. Very concerned. We can’t get slack even as restrictions are lifting in the cities. Stay alert and practice the public health measures, social distancing, wearing a mask Washing your hands constantly for at least 20 seconds and drying them properly.”

The APY Lands was the first remote Indigenous community in Australia to close its borders in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus. 

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best: APY general manager confirms body bags and body retrieval part of COVID-19 emergency plan
EXCLUSIVE: Body bags just one emergency resource discussed in a coronavirus disaster management committee meeting with SA state authorities and Indigenous organisations as the COVID-19 outbreak escalated across the nation in early March.