• NACCHO's Chief executive Pat Turner said she's disheartened by the Prime Minister's dismissal of the Uluru Statement. (Sarah Collard: NITV News)Source: Sarah Collard: NITV News
Access restrictions are being implemented in remote communities as the highly contagious Delta variant threatens to cause a national outbreak.
Sarah Collard

28 Jun 2021 - 4:42 PM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2021 - 4:46 PM

The head of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Pat Turner has urged First Nations people to be vigilant against the threat of COVID-19, after community transmission of the virus across much of the country.  

Ms Turner said she is particularly concerned after a local case was detected in Central Australia and has now been linked to at least six others.

"It would be devastating if the virus got into our communities," the Arrente woman said. 

The highly infectious 'Delta' strain of the virus is causing havoc across the states, with more than 130 cases linked to the Bondi cluster alone, while the Northern Territory has entered its first lockdown. 

She said the strain could spread quickly in our communities as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live in multigenerational homes with large close-knit families.

"There are many issues including environmental health conditions, water quality, appropriate-sized housing and accommodation," she said.

"The houses are overcrowded, the living conditions are often appalling — Our people should not be living in third world conditions in 2021 in this country." 

Other states and territories have been quick to respond with border restrictions now in place for people who have been in Greater Sydney and New South Wales. 

Remote community restrictions

In response to the Northern Territory going into its snap lockdown, the Northern Land Council has suspended permits into remote communities. 

In a statement, NLC said only essential services and staff will be allowed in to protect vulnerable residents. 

Meanwhile, in South Australia, the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara community put out a statement via social media that they are monitoring the situation.

"APY Permits is monitoring requests and will not be issuing permits to residents from states with border closures to South Australia," it read.

It also said that while South Australian residents can enter the Lands, those in other states would not be permitted entry and those in the Northern Territory are being urged to shelter in place.

"If you are an APY resident in the Northern Territory, it is strongly recommended that you shelter in place until further notice. Staff on the APY Lands are asked to undertake only essential travel."

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Central Australian Aboriginal Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee said it would be dire if the virus got into remote communities. 

"The potential for unvaccinated, community members, it could be absolutely catastrophic. We're seeing those images in other parts of the world when hospitals get overwhelmed," she told NITV news.

She said there were grave concerns after the Northern Territory mine worker tested positive prompting authorities to scramble to contact hundreds of close contacts. 

"There were 24 workers of which ten were Aboriginal. So we worked with Community Disease Control to track down those turn Aboriginal workers," she said. 

"This is a wake-up call but it's also a timely reminder to please go and get vaccinated. There has been a bit of complacency in the Territory."

Remaining vigilant

Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council CEO Robert Skeen said the latest outbreaks are concerning.

"It's very worrying. It's almost like we're back to the beginning of the COVID outbreak and, again, we're locked down," he said.

After more than 18 months of the pandemic, he warned against complacency and 'COVID fatigue'. 

"We need to be very vigilant again and maintain the same things that we were doing at the beginning of COVID," he said.

First Nations people are urged to get vaccinated and protect themselves and vulnerable family members from the virus.

All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged over 16 are now eligible to get the vaccine, with the latest figures revealing that 87,664 First Nations people have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

In the Northern Territory, data from The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation has recorded 8,108 First Nations people have had at least one dose.

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