The lockdown in regional New South Wales has been extended as Aboriginal communities work with authorities to try and contain the COVID outbreak in the state’s west.
Leaders across the region are meeting with the Australian Defence Force daily to allay concerns our people have about the military presence in the region.
The Army is sending 120 troops to the state’s west to assist policing the community, provide care and well-being packages to residents, and help with the uptake of vaccinations in Dubbo and regional areas across the next 8 weeks.
Speaking on Thursday, Colonel Warwick Young said engagement between the Army and Aboriginal communities would include a liaison and be in the most “courteous and respectful fashion possible.”
Each day, Dubbo Aboriginal organisations and medical services members are hosting a one-hour meeting, attended by the Army, to keep the community updated.
Aboriginal attendees have described the dialogue as positive.
“Certainly, their presence [ADF] will be felt, and in some cases, there will be a little bit of nervousness or hesitation in their response,” said Charles Trindall, current chairperson of the Dubbo Local Aboriginal Land Council.
“But, you know, we assured them obviously as a community that we would be seeing their presence as more in an assisting role as extra resources for New South Wales Health, rather than I suppose that they’re in to enforce rules and restrictions.”
Dubbo recorded 21 new cases of the virus on Thursday, while 4 were confirmed in Mudgee. New cases were incorrectly announced in Brewarrina and Bathurst, while 3 cases were later confirmed at Wilcannia and will be included in tomorrow’s figures.
A walk-in vaccination clinic at Dubbo’s Pioneer Park will be open to all residents from Saturday morning, with a Medicare card required to receive the jab.
With the cases in the town expected to rise, Charlie Trindall urged his community to continue safe practices.
“We've got 67% of confirmed cases being Aboriginal people and they’re people we know, and relatives of ours, and people our kids go to school with and play sports with, so yeah it is testing times,” he said.
“We've seen a great response from all of our community coming together and just helping and supporting each other.”
With high numbers of children in the town infected, a majority of Dubbo’s schools remain closed.
Western Health CEO Scott McLachlan revealed that Dubbo College South Campus had 716 student close contacts and 133 staff, and that 70 per cent of total infections in the area are people under 35.
“Particularly kids out and about regularly … They are sharing the virus between each other, and that’s transmitted in households as well,” he said.
Eight people are in hospital in Dubbo with one adult in intensive care.
Health services have also been impacted with 126 workers in isolation or waiting results of COVID tests, putting pressure on turnaround times for testing.
'Shock' messaging mix up for Brewarrina
For the second consecutive day, the state announced a record number of infections, with 681 locally acquired cases and the death of a man in his 80’s in Sydney.
But during the daily 11am press conference, Deputy Premier John Barilaro announced 2 new cases in Brewarrina and one in Bathurst.
This was soon remedied by Scott McLachlan who confirmed the cases were in Dubbo and Mudgee and suggested the NSW Health website triggered the results off home addresses instead of where the people were located at present.
“There’s no doubt there’s things to improve … we’re working around the clock to get to people that have been identified,” he said.
Ngemba woman and Brewarrina resident Trish Frail said hearing about cases related to her town was a shock.
“They really don’t explain it properly, people on the ground are just still panicking,” she told NITV News.
“When the government’s saying the there’s two cases in Bree .. they’re not saying the people aren’t living in Bree itself.”
“It shocked the whole community.”
Ms Frail said government should be working closer with Aboriginal community organisations, and today’s mix up is an example of how their health messaging is sub par.
“Those services know how to speak to community, whereas government really don’t. They are just reading a statement and not really taking notice of who is listening to that,” she said.
“They’re just putting it out there, regardless of what type of education you have and how well you can take that information in.”
“They’re not listening to the community, they’re still in the city, and that’s where they aim to be.”
Bourke turning up for testing
One case of COVID-19 was recorded in Bourke overnight, which will be recorded in tomorrow’s official numbers.
It brings the town’s total to 3 cases, with 213 COVID-19 tests in Bourke in the last 24 hours.
Ngemba man and Bourke local, Uncle Phil Sullivan took his grandchildren to get tested at the Bourke Aboriginal Health Service on Monday.
He also received his first vaccination shot.
“It was really good to see a lot of our people there, a lot of Elders there, really good to see a lot of the young people,” he told NITV News.
“Let's get on the front and show that we're the original people of the land, that we take the first step to actually get vaccinated, to look after our immunity as we always have.”
The Bourke Aboriginal Health Service has also taken their vaccine clinic on the road, administering jabs in the small town of Enngonia with a population of 148.
Calls for National Indigenous Vaccination program
Federal Labor are hitting the Commonwealth with a four-pronged proposal to lift Indigenous vaccination rates nationally, after recent data showed all states and territories are well behind, except Victoria.
New South Wales has currently vaccinated just 8 per cent of our people.
Labor’s four points including working closely with and empowering First Nations community health organisations; supporting local vaccination, testing and resources in remote areas with a culturally specific approach; ensuring updated localised data on vaccination rates and availability to understand resourcing issues; and to clearly outline contingencies for treatment in communities should it be required.
“There is no way the government can rely on the rhetoric that we're doing well in Aboriginal communities, said Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, speaking from the Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation’s vaccination clinic in Southwestern Sydney.
“There's 250 young people go through the vaccine clinic today. They're all getting a steak sandwich at the end of it. They've got their families with them.
“It really is a fabulous example of an Aboriginal-led organization and what is possible.”