Indigenous coronavirus taskforce meets as remote communities restrict access | World news
The federal government has set up a national Indigenous advisory group to fast-track an emergency response plan for Aboriginal communities that are among the most vulnerable to any potential spread of Covid-19.
The taskforce met on Thursday as remote Aboriginal communities in South Australia began to strictly limit visitors for the next three months, worried that if Covid-19 arrives it will be “devastating” for their elders and people with existing health problems.
The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) have introduced strict rules for entry to their lands, which they can to do under the APY Land Rights Act.
“We are protecting our people, especially those who hold our ancient cultural knowledge, and we know they are already vulnerable as they are quite old,” APY general manager Richard King said.
“A lot of our people present with comorbidities like diabetes and renal failure. We have high smoking rates, overcrowding in housing, overall poor hygiene.
“It’s almost a perfect storm to support the transmission of these types of diseases.
“The problem with this one is it has a 3.4% fatality rate, which is high, but with our cohort, if it gets here, it’s going to be devastating.”
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisory group on Covid-19 is made up of leaders from the Aboriginal community controlled health sector, state and territory health and medical officials, Aboriginal communicable disease experts, the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association and the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
The new taskforce will consider the health, social and cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, using principles of shared decision-making and co-design. The management plan will focus on current containment activities as well as preparations for mitigation and treatment phases.
There are major issues to consider, “depending on how serious it gets, and events as they unfold”, according to Olga Havnen, a member of the taskforce and CEO of the Darwin-based Aboriginal health organisation Danila Dilba.
These include housing people, and the deployment of additional health workforce capacity, Havnen said.
“We would need deployment based on where the need is greatest,” Havnen said. “And will people want to do it? This will need a dynamic response.
“But the commonwealth has a clear sense of the need to provide good structures for the vulnerable in our communities.
“The key thing is getting good information, clear and consistent, to our communities. And the big message is hand-washing.”
The APY board decided on Thursday to refuse entry for the next three months to anyone who has been in mainland China since early February, or been in contact with someone confirmed to have coronavirus, or who has travelled to Iran, South Korea, Japan, Italy or Mongolia.
Anyone in those categories who wants to visit needs to have tested negative for the virus, and will have to submit a copy of the test results along with a statutory declaration to be considered for entry.
State and federal agencies don’t need to apply for a permit to enter but King said he hoped they would comply with the ban.
Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt has agreed to postpone a scheduled visit next month.
There have been no known Covid-19 cases on APY lands to date, but the prime minister, Scott Morrison, has expressed concern about the vulnerability of those in remote Indigenous communities.
During the 2009 swine flu outbreak, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up 11% of all identified cases, 20% of hospitalisations and 13% of deaths.
NT Chief medical officer Dianne Stephens acknowledged the “significant” logistical problems with using self-isolation as a response in remote communities, where overcrowding in housing is a major issue.
“So we are working out ways in every community where we can institute social distancing, where we can have a safe place for people to be quarantined if they’re unwell,” she said.
The NT health minister, Natasha Fyles, announced yesterday that a pandemic clinic had been set up at Royal Darwin hospital.