• The New South Wales town of Walgett has a large First Nations population (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Elders and health leaders say the NSW government has failed to adequately consult and coordinate with Indigenous medical services to help protect communities in the state's west as COVID spreads through the region.
13 Sep 2021 - 5:01 PM  UPDATED 13 Sep 2021 - 5:14 PM

There are nearly a thousand cases of COVID-19 in western NSW with authorities particularly concerned about the northwestern town of Walgett. 

NSW Health's Jeremy McAnulty said 12 new locally acquired cases in the state's west had brought the total there to 978, with five in Bathurst, four in Dubbo, two in Bourke and one in Walgett.

Walgett is one of the most socially disadvantaged areas in the state, with an Indigenous population of 30 per cent of the total.

"We're concerned people who have been in Walgett or live in nearby communities, where there might have been a contact travelling to and from Walgett, (need) to be particularly vigilant and come forward for testing," Dr McNulty said on Monday.

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Wendy Spencer, Chief Executive Officer of the Dharriwaa Elders Group in Walgett said the government's lack of engagement with Aboriginal health services was "shocking" and these services needed to be resourced appropriately.

"We can't really understand why police and the army are the ones that are resourced to be responding to a public health emergency and it leads to potentially really disastrous consequences down the track," Ms Spencer told a Monday hearing for the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the government's management of the pandemic.

"People being issued with huge public health order fines for example."

Executive Director of Operations, Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW Dr Peter Malouf told the hearing there was yet to be a meeting between state health authorities and Aboriginal community health services to discuss public health responses and restrictions.

"What I would like to see is that an urgent meeting be called between the chief health officer and the minister of health with our Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services to discuss these critical issues at this point in time," Dr Malouf told the hearing.

Earlier, the inquiry heard testimony from Aunty Monica Kerwin, a spokesperson from the remote far west community of Wilcannia, where more than one-in-six residents of the majority Aboriginal population have now tested positive for COVID-19.

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Ms Kerwin told the hearing that she warned the government a year ago that overcrowding in housing would pose an issue for any potential outbreaks in the community.

"I felt at that time that nobody really listened to what our opinion was," she said on Monday morning. 

"Our opinion wasn't valued at that level... it was heartbreaking." 

Ms Kerwin said the community had been "let down".

"They're trying to accommodate us now after the effect, which is useless," she said. 

The NSW government sent 30 motorhomes to accommodate isolating infected residents but Ms Kerwin said this was inadequate.

There was also a significant increase in cases over the weekend in the Illawarra Shoalhaven area as well as in the Central Coast and Hunter.

Of the total 1257 new cases for the entire state to 8pm on Sunday, 78 are from Nepean Blue Mountains, 27 are from Illawarra Shoalhaven, 18 are from Hunter New England district, 16 are from the Central Coast and two are from Southern Local Health District.

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