NACCHO Aboriginal Health and #CoronaVirus News Alert No 27 April 2 #KeepOurMobSafe : Part 1 : Fears for Indigenous as 5 Kimberley health workers infected. Part 2 : Race to build coronavirus ‘ark’ for at-risk elders

“ Five health workers have tested positive to coronavirus in the ­remote Kimberley region where half of all residents are Indigenous.

The infected people include an employee of the WA Country Health Service in Halls Creek, a service hub for Aboriginal communities and the place where desert people often go for medical treatment.

Three of the other Kimberley health workers were in the ­region’s largest town of Broome and one was in the town of Kununurra near the Northern Territory border. All three towns have ­hospitals “

From the Australian 2 April : Read in full PART 1 below

“Older people and community leadership have asked us to concentrate on helping community people who want to self-isolate.

We are redoubling our efforts on building an outstation where a better level of disease control can be implemented for as long as needed.”

The outstation would be called Tanami Ark.”

Co-chief executive of Balgo’s Wirrimanu Aboriginal Corporation Hugh Lovesy wrote in a desperate email to more than three dozen officials and stakeholders that “there is significant potential for a very serious outbreak to develop.

From the Australian 1 April : Read in full PART 2 below

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Part 1 : Five health workers have tested positive to coronavirus in the ­remote Kimberley region where half of all residents are Indigenous.

 

The infected people include an employee of the WA Country Health Service in Halls Creek, a service hub for Aboriginal communities and the place where desert people often go for medical treatment.

Three of the other Kimberley health workers were in the ­region’s largest town of Broome and one was in the town of Kununurra near the Northern Territory border. All three towns have ­hospitals.

The cases come despite efforts to prevent travel to the region and in particular to remote communities. About 17,000 of the Kimberley’s 34,000 residents are indigenous and considered ­especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because they have a higher incidence of underlying health issues. The number of confirmed cases in the Kimberley now stands at 12.

The news came as police, army and emergency ser­vices volunteers began manning checkpoints across Western Australia to effectively confine every resident to one of nine regions.

From midnight on Tuesday, the McGowan government established intrastate borders that it hopes can slow the spread of corona­virus to country towns.

Of particular concern are communities with a high proportion of vulnerable residents, including the retirement hub of Albany.

WA is the first state to set up borders within its borders, though there are exemptions for essential workers, such as miners, and goods such as food. Premier Mark McGowan said he wanted to go further than borders around each of the state’s ­regions, some of them vast. He contemplated locking down individual towns.

“We did consider local government boundaries as the borders … but at this point in time it was too logistically difficult,” he said. “The nine borders now have checkpoints on various crossings … that the police, the SES and indeed the Australian Army are supporting us with. The checkpoints have worked well where they are in place and that … freight has moved relatively quickly, even though people have been at times lined up at the crossings.”

On the southern outskirts of Perth on Wednesday, police on Albany Highway dealt mostly with mine workers and truck drivers. They allowed them through because they were exempt. By late morning, 12 people had been turned away. One wanted to go bushwalking and another intended to cross the new border to collect firewood.

“I’m advised some people have been turned back,” Mr McGowan said. “It appears it is all working relatively smoothly, even though I understand some people may be frustrated … and if people are frustrated then hopefully that means the message is getting through.”

The checkpoints were made possible under state-of-­emergency powers.

This has given Police Commissioner Chris Dawson the authority to order ships not to dock, direct his officers to ­arrest people who refuse to self-isolate and to close Perth Zoo.

There are fines of up to $50,000 for people who ignore a directive to self-isolate and police can issue $1000 on-the-spot fines to anyone not practising social ­distancing.

Mr Dawson said most people accepted the extraordinary ­measures were there for everyone’s protection.

“I don’t want this to be punitive,” he said “I don’t want this to be a situation where we are just slapping out fines. We need the community to understand.”

Part 2

The tiny Aboriginal community of Balgo is racing to build a “Tanami Ark” for its elders amid fears of an imminent coronavirus outbreak after some locals ignored advice not to let residents return from infected areas without spending 14 days in isolation first.

Balgo, which is home to about 400 people living 500km south of Kununurra in northern Western Australia, had until Monday been striving to make those who claimed residency quarantine themselves outside the community before coming back.

A group of 17 people was due to return from Broome — where there have been confirmed

Amid pressure from outsiders, Balgo residents on Monday abandoned the safety measure — against the advice of their leaders and staff — and decided to let people return as they wish.

Co-chief executive of Balgo’s Wirrimanu Aboriginal Corporation Hugh Lovesy wrote in a desperate email to more than three dozen officials and stakeholders that “there is significant potential for a very serious outbreak to develop”.

“If such an outbreak occurs, it will be most likely to occur over a very short period of time,” Mr Lovesy wrote.

“About 50 people will be returning to Balgo community over the next week or so … the increased overcrowding will provide a fertile breeding ground for the spread of the virus and other illnesses. Effective self-isolation will be almost impossible to implement.”

The remote Aboriginal community of Balgo in the north of Western Australia. Picture: Colin Murty

He added that social-distancing guidelines were being largely ignored “despite intensive efforts from staff and community leadership”.

WAC chairman Nathaniel Stretch told The Australian that when the first of those returnees reached the community late on Tuesday, many of them went straight to the shop to buy groceries, ignoring instructions to self-isolate. “I had to push them out,” he said. “I’m worried that people might get infected.”

Mr Stretch said some of the cohort had begun quarantining at home but that others — particularly those he believed associated with street drinkers in Broome — were “still walking around”.

The Kimberley Region including Balgo was among the vast tracts of outback WA, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland that the federal government last week declared special biosecurity zones.

Anyone entering or moving between those zones must self-isolate for 14 days, but movement within the zones is unrestricted. The Kimberley zone, which includes the service hubs of Broome and Kununurra, has had six confirmed coronavirus cases.

Mr Lovesy wrote in his email, obtained by The Australian, that there appeared to be nothing to protect vulnerable people in Balgo from returnees who might have had contact with undetected coronavirus patients.

“Older people and community leadership have asked us to concentrate on helping community people who want to self-isolate,” he said.

“We are redoubling our efforts on building an outstation where a better level of disease control can be implemented for as long as needed.”

The outstation would be called Tanami Ark.

The Australian on Tuesday revealed that health experts and local managers working in remote South Australia also believe community spread of COVID-19 in the bush is all but inevitable. A local arts organisation has called for elders to be sheltered in Adelaide.

A McGowan government spokeswoman confirmed it helped 27 people who would soon travel from the town of Broome to Balgo, a distance of 910km by road. They would get temperature checks before their departure from Broome and health checks on arrival. They would not be required to self isolate.

Mr Stretch said he was deeply disappointed in his community for overturning its safety measure.

“The first thing we did was great, but now my people put me down,” he said.

 

 

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