• The city of Dubbo in western NSW is in lockdown amid a COVID outbreak. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
A critical shortage of vaccines, doctors, nurses and masks has the NSW outback on edge as COVID hits remote towns.
NITV Staff Writers

12 Aug 2021 - 4:55 PM  UPDATED 12 Aug 2021 - 4:59 PM

The major NSW centre of Dubbo is on high alert amid a worsening COVID outbreak, with warnings a doctor shortage is hampering efforts to contain the virus.

The federal and state governments are reportedly redirecting vaccines, while elders have pleaded for urgent additional vaccine and mask supplies and medical staff.

It is the first outbreak in a remote area with a high population of unvaccinated First Nations people.

Dubbo had another three confirmed cases overnight, bringing the total cases in western NSW to six.

New restrictions are now in place for Dubbo plus the local government areas of Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Narromine, Walgett and Warren until August 19. 

Dubbo Aboriginal Medical Service chief medical officer Amy Lea Perrin said the service was scrambling to trace close contacts and vaccinate as many others as possible.

But a doctor shortage was hampering efforts, Dr Perrin said. 

“It is very difficult to try and balance the vaccination clinics and normal day to day work that we as GPS do,” she said.

“The interest in the vaccination has definitely gone up in the last couple of days and it's something that we're really trying to accommodate, but ... with those limited number of doctors and services out here, we just ask that everyone (be) patient, we're really trying our best to get through everybody.” 

NSW Health said it is rescheduling mobile community vaccination clinics that were put on hold after last week's decision to reallocate additional Pfizer doses to other areas.  

Dr Perrin, a Wiradjuri woman, said she was concerned about the connectedness of a number of communities, with high mobility between different areas. 

"A lot of our community is quite mobile amongst the other communities in the western region,” she said. 

“Something we are quite concerned about at the moment is that we may well have already had spread that we don't yet know about.  

“It is very important that we do all sit with the lockdowns, we do isolate within our home groups, and not visit other relatives at this moment until we know exactly what is going on.” 

High anxiety amid low vaccine availability

Just 13.6 per cent of Australia’s First Nations population is fully vaccinated, and 29.9 per cent partially vaccinated, both well below the national level. 

“There’s always been a level of fear and anxiety with COVID, you know, thankfully for the last year and a half our committees have been able to remain pretty safe and insulated against COVID,” Euahlayi man Bhiamie Williamson told NITV from Goodooga, 140km from Walgett. 

“This outbreak (has) reached up to Walgett, which is just down the road from us.  I guess I describe it as like high anxiety.”

Elders call for urgent support 

The Dharriwaa Elders Group in Walgett called on authorities “to do all they can” to stem the outbreak. 

“This is a very worrying time for our community,” the group said in a statement. 

“Many of our elders and others in Walgett experience health and social issues that make them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. 

“The impact on our communities could be devastating.” 

Specifically, the elders said Walgett needed more trained nurses to give vaccines and support the work of the Aboriginal Medical Services; motel rooms for people who need to isolate away from family or who are homeless; mobile testing and vaccination options, and additional resources and support for well-being checks to vulnerable community members. 

The Dharriwaa Elders Group also called on Police and Corrective Services to ensure they “are not putting communities at risk of COVID transmission in transporting people across western NSW or enforcing parole conditions”. 

“It is a terrifying situation”: Linda Burney 

Federal Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney slammed the deficiencies of the Commonwealth’s vaccine rollout which has left vulnerable communities at risk. 

She said reports of thousands of additional vaccine vials being sent to the region were inadequate.

"When you add up the numbers of vaccines being rushed out, and the numbers in the local government area of Dubbo and Walgett, it is something like 50,000 - 4000 vaccines are not going to cut it," Ms Burney told NITV.

"I've spoken to people in Western New South Wales today: There are no vaccines. There is no one to give the injections, even if they were vaccines, and in some communities they're running short of food supplies. 

“IBourke for example, there are only two per cent of the community that's been vaccinated.  

My concern is if there are vaccines being rushed out to places like Walgett, then does that mean there was none there in the first place? 

Ms Burney described the situation as an “absolute failure” by the federal government. 

"The implications, if this thing gets up in the western division of New South Wales, not just for Aboriginal people but for all people, is an absolute disaster,” she said. 

“It is a terrifying situation." 

“There are thousands of people out there that want to get the vaccine but they simply can't, because it's not available. 

I am sick of the rhetoric of the federal government saying Aboriginal communities are a priority, from what we're seeing right now, in real time in New South Wales, is that is patently not true.” 

Goodooga misses out on vaccine day 

The tiny town of Goodooga had been due to have its long-awaited vaccine clinic in town today, with few vaccinated so far. 

Mr Williamson said the Walgett AMS had planned to vaccinate many in the community. 

“I think everyone was really looking forward to that, but now that’s been taken away from community,” Mr Willamson said. 

“Because we're so remote, it's been quite hard to get access to vaccinations for most community members and for people who aren’t too mobile, all the elders in community or school kids and teachers.  

“It's added to people's anxiety that they don't have access to the vaccination now in Goodooga, and people don't want to travel to Walgett to that get vaccinated. 

“The community's main line defence is just to try to stay home and stay informed, stay away from people. 


Dr Jason Agostino, a GP, epidemiologist and medical advisor at the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) was also concerned about the low vaccination rates in regional NSW. 

“The data is that our health services can't do it alone and we need state governments and the Royal Flying Doctors and everyone to work together to get these vaccination rates up.

“I'm just worried, you know... people have forgotten that COVID 19 has killed millions of people."