• The Dubbo Regional Aboriginal Health Service warns a doctor shortage is hampering efforts to contain the outbreak. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
There are calls to prioritise vaccinating Aboriginal children in the state’s west following a significant rise in cases in First Nations communities.
Jodan Perry, Shahni Wellington

13 Aug 2021 - 3:16 PM  UPDATED 13 Aug 2021 - 3:21 PM

Aboriginal communities in Western New South Wales remain on high alert after a significant rise in COVID-19 cases overnight.

Dubbo recorded 17 new cases of the virus up until 9am this morning while there are 2 new cases in the town of Walgett. A second case has been confirmed at the Bathurst Correctional Centre.

It means there are now 25 active cases of COVID-19 in the Western Health District.

“A large proportion of the new cases in Dubbo and Walgett are Aboriginal people, most of those are children,” said CEO of the Western NSW Local Health District Scott McLachlan.

Mr McLachlan said the virus was spreading throughout schools in the city, while Dubbo Base Hospital remains on high alert.

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Dubbo Aboriginal Medical Service General Practitioner, Dr Amy-Lea Perrin, holds grave concerns for the community.

“A lot of our children, especially the ones I look after, do have chronic health issues themselves,” Dr Perrin told NITV News.

“Our young ones can have diabetes, quite brutal asthma, autoimmune diseases - So if any of these children were to become ill with COVID, it would be quite devastating on their little bodies.”

As Dr Perrin is the only person at the Dubbo AMS able to administer vaccines, the clinic has appealed to the government and other medical bodies, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service, for more assistance. 

Aboriginal children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for COVID vaccines.

The risk of spreading the disease is a major issue, according to Dr Perrin.

“Quite often, we can have multi-generational families living in one household, so if the children are ill - There is that risk that their parents and grandparents may become unwell also,” she said.

“We do expect to see more cases emerge. In the sewage detection, there has been COVID-19 detected in the Bathurst region, in Parkes and Bourke," - NSW Deputy CHO Dr Marianne Gale.

Wiradjuri/Wailwan lawyer Teela Reid, who is in Dubbo and has family in Gilgandra and throughout the region, reinforced the need for Aboriginal children need to be protected.

“What we're witnessing now is a really high rate of young people being infected with the Delta variant,” she said.

“We need to make sure that we're protecting our children, if that means making sure that they get vaccinated as well, or at least their parents having the option of that. 

More cases expected

A record number of 390 cases of the virus were announced by the state government on Friday, with two more deaths – an unvaccinated woman in her 40’s from south-western Sydney and a man in his 90’s in an aged care facility in Newcastle.

A number of new venues have been listed for Dubbo including Fitness Focus, the Myall Street Mini Mart and Covid Safe Clinic, Uniting Service Station, Don Crosby Veterinary Surgery, Tim Koerstz Pharmacy, McDonald’s West Dubbo, Bunnings and Dan Murphys.  

The Walgett Sporting Club was listed as a site of exposure between 7:39 and 7:50pm on Tuesday August 10.

Walgett, Dubbo, Narromine, Bogan, Bourke, Gilgandra, Coonamble, Brewarrina and Warren are all in lockdown until at least Wednesday.

NSW Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Marianne Gale said the case numbers in the state’s west are likely to increase.

“We do expect to see more cases emerge. In the sewage detection, there has been COVID-19 detected in the Bathurst region, in Parkes and Bourke,” she said.

Dr Gale would not provide an overall breakdown of how many First Nations people in the region had the virus.

‘Lack of duty of care’

Teela Reid describes the unfolding situation as a “lack of duty of care” from the government.

“From a blackfulla point of view, this was entirely predictable,” she told NITV News.

“We've never had out here enough vaccinations, it's very vulnerable communities. Dubbo is the epicentre of the region, so all the towns surrounding it are interconnected with so many mobs.

“The lack of duty of care in this region, particularly for First Nations peoples has been of a concern since the beginning.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are a priority group for the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out program. Despite high-Indigenous population regions such as north-west NSW, they have some of the worst vaccination rates in the state.

At present, Bourke Aboriginal Medical Service has 400 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and is taking appointments and walk-ins, while there is a pop-up vaccination clinic at Walgett RSL club.

The Federal government has sent 8000 doses of the vaccine to Walgett, at the request of their state counterparts.

“Is it a serious issue for the local community? It is, very much so. The ICU in a hospital in a place like that is nowhere near what we would expect in Sydney,” said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

“In the broader community there is a propensity – more likely circumstance would be to see a family member is moving between households. Our big effort this morning is to try and get that message through to locals to stick just within your own household.”

“If we lose a single First Nations person because of this outbreak, there is blood absolutely on the government's hands.”

Mr Hazzard also tried to reinforce the complexities of the rollout and said it wasn’t about “blaming anyone.”

“We would have all liked far more vaccine to have been in those more remote communities,” he said. 

“I think it is not a case of blaming anyone, just recognising there have been other priorities.

“Now the Federal government are obviously trying to assist us and we are trying to assist them, doing what is their obligation and that is making sure that we try and get those vaccines up there and into arms.”

But Ms Reid, who has been vocal about the downfalls of the vaccine rollout in First Nations communities, said there was a lack of safety messaging for vulnerable communities, particularly in relation to the Delta variant of COVID-19.

“There are Elders I know of now in the community who are even unable to access AstraZeneca and have to wait,” she said.

“If we lose a single First Nations person because of this outbreak, there is blood absolutely on the government's hands.”

Indigenous children and those with underlying medical conditions can now get the Pfizer vaccine
Indigenous, immunocompromised and other vulnerable children as young as 12 will be given priority access to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.