A statewide prison lockdown has been announced in New South Wales, following the largest outbreak of COVID in correctional facilities since the pandemic began.
49 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to Sydney's Parklea prison, while nine staff members at Bathurst prison have tested positive.
“It is extremely worrying to see the reported outbreaks in New South Wales prisons, and I suspect in other prisons across the country," said shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney.
"We know that a very large percentage of the prison population is Aboriginal and we also know that a large percentage of the prison population have underlying health conditions,” she told NITV News.
The disease has also spread to Broken Hill Correctional Centre, where two inmates have contracted the virus. They have since been transported to a special COVID facility at Silverwater jail.
NSW Chief Health officer Dr Kerry Chant says she is concerned about the outbreaks, and is looking at ramping up vaccinations in prisons to help slow the spread.
“It is a complex operational environment. People are living in close quarters. People are coming in to work in the prisons, and COVID can be introduced and we have high turnover.”
But according to expert Dr Hannah McGlade from the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, steps to mitigate the risk of outbreaks could have been taken months ago.
“This is a failure from both the Commonwealth and state governments to act properly to protect Aboriginal people from contracting this deadly disease.”
Prison authorities agree, saying the current situation could have been avoided if prison officers were given access to vaccines earlier.
“Our position is they should’ve been given the same priority as police and other health workers," said General Secretary of the Public Service Association Stewart Little.
"We did write to the government back in February in respect to this," he told NITV.
"It was obviously a decision of health to prioritise them as... second tier but obviously now the government is fast playing catch up and the situation could become very, very critical.”