• COVID-19 surveillance testing has now been activated in Bourke. (AAP)Source: AAP
The Army has been called into western NSW, and drive-through clinics are being set up in Dubbo, in a race to vaccinate the community as the COVID outbreak worsens.
Jodan Perry, Shahni Wellington

16 Aug 2021 - 3:03 PM  UPDATED 18 Aug 2021 - 3:03 PM

Australian Defence Force personnel are being deployed to towns in western NSW to urgently try to help contain the growing COVID outbreak, which has ballooned to almost 100 cases.

The outback town of Bourke had its first case confirmed today, along with further cases in Dubbo, Walgett and Mudgee.

The defence personnel will help boost vaccinations in Walgett, Bourke and Brewarrina, while local health teams were setting up two drive-through vaccination clinics in Dubbo.

“We are going to continue to see situation grow. It is incredibly scary for those in western New South Wales,” said Western NSW Health District CEO Scott McLachlan.

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The region recorded 35 new cases, including 32 in Dubbo, bringing the total to 91. The new case in Bourke was in hospital receiving treatment.

Across NSW there were 478 new cases, and eight people died.

Western NSW Health’s Mr McLachlan said the majority of new cases were Aboriginal people, mostly children.

“Nearly 40 per cent are kids between the ages of 10 and 19,” he said.

“This is a really serious warning for parents of kids running around everywhere at the moment. Please stay home.”

Mr McLachlan said there were low rates of vaccination among Aboriginal children, as children 12 and over only became eligible this week.

He called on people to get vaccinated, and stressed that Pfizer is available.

“We need to protect our most precious kids in our communities,” Mr McLachlan said.

He urged residents to reach out to local Aboriginal Medical Centres, GP’s, vaccination hubs, respiratory clinics and prompted use of the Health Direct website. 

People should monitor the growing list of exposure sites, which include Woolworths and Big W at the Orana Mall in Dubbo. There were also sites added in Bathurst and Orange.

Mr McLachlan also said that accommodation services had been set up in Dubbo for those isolating or

In Bourke, vaccination clinics are open until Saturday at both the Old Dental Clinic on the corner of Darling and Glen Street and the Ochre Medical Centre Main Practice at 14 Darling Street.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has also set up a walk in Pfizer clinic at Wilcannia Town Hall that is open today and tomorrow from 1030am to 4pm.

Welfare checks in Walgett

In Walgett, meanwhile, the Aboriginal Medical Service was door-knocking to ensure vulnerable people could access support.

Acting CEO of Walgett and Brewarrina Aboriginal Medical Services, Katrina Ward, told NITV News that vaccinations will be the number one priority.

“It's just going to be that continual reinforcement and education that having some protection is better than having none at all, and at the moment having the vaccination is the best protection we've got in the long term,” Ms Ward said.

The AMS would make welfare checks to ensure Elders and others in isolated communities can be vaccinated.

The University of Newcastle was also sending additional staff to help with clinical work and administering vaccines.
Ms Ward pleaded for young people – who make up 40 percent of cases - to stay at home.

“They've also got to step up with this and they've got to take responsibility for what they're doing,” she said.

“Sit back and listen to their Elders and have that distance and stay at home, and not be wandering around everywhere or catching up with each other.

“If we can do this in for a short while, it'll make it better for the long term.”

Concerns for targeted over-policing

But the Aboriginal Legal Service has raised concerns about the potential for over-policing of Aboriginal peoples amid the state-wide crackdown on COVID-19 infringements.

It has urged people to know their rights and seek assistance if they receive infringement notices, after last year’s outbreak resulted in heavy fines in Mt Druitt and Redfern.

“Now that police have extra powers and are joined on the ground by 800 members of the Australian Defence Force, we are extremely concerned about the potential for Aboriginal people to again be targeted and intimidated,” ALS Deputy CEO Anthony Carter said.

ALS offices are closed during the lockdown, but additional staff are answering its hotline phone service.

The ALS has also called on the NSW Government to support Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to protect their clients.

“It’s on the NSW Government to ensure masks, rapid testing, vaccines and other resources are available to towns including Walgett, Dubbo, Brewarrina and Bourke, where local organisations are doing their best to curb the regional outbreak,” Mr Carter said.

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