More Restrictions for Australia’s North as Doctor Tests Positive for COVID-19

April 2, 2020Australia
More Restrictions for Australia’s North as Doctor Tests Positive for COVID-19
The remote town of Halls Creek in Western Australia. (W. Bulach/CC BY-SA [])

More access restrictions are being placed on Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region, where COVID-19 cases are up.

A largely indigenous town on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia is devastated to learn a doctor has contracted COVID-19, which NTD refers to as the Chinese Communist Party virus.

The number of confirmed cases in the Kimberley region has surged to 12, including six health workers.

Health minister Roger Cook said the most concerning of those cases was a Halls Creek doctor, who would have seen patients from a wide area.

Yura Yungi Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Brenda Garstone said frantic efforts were underway to trace those who had contact with the doctor and give flu vaccinations to people over 65.

“We’re racing against the clock right now—it’s here in our community,” she told AAP on Thursday.

“It’s devastating for Halls Creek … they’re beside themselves.”

Garstone said the risk to the impoverished shire of about 3,200 people was very high.

At the 2016 census, 74 percent of the shire’s residents were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, who are considered particularly vulnerable given high rates of other health problems.

Premier Mark McGowan said another case in the region was a Kununurra-based Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development worker who manned the checkpoint at the Northern Territory border.

Tracing is underway for drivers who may have come into contact with the worker between March 25 and 29, using vehicle registration details.

Police commissioner Chris Dawson said several officers had been near the worker and he suspected they would have to undergo 14 days isolation.

Six checkpoint colleagues are self-isolating and one has been tested after displaying flu-like symptoms.

The worker did not recently travel overseas.

Access to the entire Kimberley region, especially remote Aboriginal communities, is already restricted and after midnight on Thursday, movement between the four local government areas will not be allowed.

Only one of the areas has not yet had a confirmed case.

“We cannot take any chances here,” McGowan told reporters, saying the spike was of grave concern.

“We must act fast.”

Dawson said extra police would be sent to the Kimberley to help enforce the restrictions.

Garstone said the restrictions clearly came too late.

She called on the government to urgently deploy more health workers to Halls Creek and send resources to set up a camp out of town where infected people can isolate.

Garstone said a massive effort was underway educating locals about social distancing, but it was common for one house to accommodate a dozen family members, so keeping at arm’s length was virtually impossible for many.

“It will shoot through the community.”

By Rebecca Le May

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