By OSCAR PERRI
Independent Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley has condemned the lack of information about actions the government would be taking in the likely event of Covid outbreaks in The Centre’s remote Aboriginal communities.
“The medical services in Central Australia would not cope with a Covid outbreak,” she said today.
“We need to know,” she says. “We need a local perspective.”
The “bureaucratic nonsense” dished up by the government is not good enough, and neither is it for people who are asking questions to “have the door slammed in their face. People want to know”.
Ms Lambley (at right) was commenting on arrogant and inconclusive responses given to the Alice Springs News to questions about contingencies for a Covid outbreak in remote Central Australia as the world’s death rate is relentlessly edging towards five million, and there are dire predictions about the pandemic entering Aboriginal areas in The Centre.
On August 10 we emailed the police, which says it promptly passed the enquiry on to Covid Media, asking this: “If [the outbreak] occurs in a place such as Yuendumu (Google Earth photo), what are the step-by-step measures that will be taken by the police to contain the outbreak and to ensure vital goods and services – especially health – are continuing to be available to the population?”
After several follow-up calls and emails we were told by Covid communications officer “Simone” (no surname provided), at 5.59pm yesterday: “The Emergency Operations Centre has many plans in place, outlining how we will respond in a variety of situations. Your scenario would be covered by the Remote Outbreak Management Plan. These whole of government response plans are exercised, revised and updated regularly to ensure they can be enacted quickly and efficiently when needed.”
Shadow Health Minister and Member for Namatjira Bill Yan says he has some suggestions for improvement.
He admits he has not seen what plans are in place to respond to a positive case in Alice Springs or remote Central Australia.
He says that the CLP are giving the Labor Government “bi-partisan support” for the vaccine rollout, and has received a commitment from them to improve communication of vaccine information to remote communities.
He says he understands that some aspects of the plan might not be for public eyes, but does not “see a reason why part of that plan couldn’t be made public”.
The News has contacted the Health Department, PFES, and COVID media with a range of questions regarding the current COVID situation.
Responses to questions regarding the vaccine rollout have been minimal and lacking detail, while questions regarding the response plan have gone entirely unanswered.
Mr Yan was this week invited to join a meeting with briefings from the Health Department on the vaccine rollout plan.
He says he is happy with the plans, but wants waste water testing to be rolled out in remote areas, to catch the spread as quickly as possible if it makes it to a community undetected.
“I think they’re doing the right thing, it’s just taking some time. They understand that they have to get out there, talk to the right people, be seen, and utilise their people on the ground.
“The difficulty is a lack of remote area nurses, which is compounding the problem.
“There’s a number of clinics that have been closed in some of the remote areas because of lack of nursing, and they have had to condense their workforce back to some larger centralised communities, then outsourcing into those smaller communities,” says Mr Yan (at left).
“That has really hurt the vaccine rollout.”
He says getting people in remote areas vaccinated is “front and centre” to combatting the virus.
“People in the community are certainly concerned about it, as they should be too because it says it has potential to do horrible things.”
He says he has been pushing the NT government to increase efforts to vaccinate remote communities, which he says they have committed to doing. Supply of vaccines is no issue at the moment, but rather a lack of medical staff as well as hesitancy in the community.
The media scrutiny of AstraZeneca really hurt the vaccination take up in the first instance in remote communities: “There’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what the vaccines would do.”
Mr Yan says this is due to interstate restrictions, and a lack of suitable people for the job more generally.
“You can’t just take anyone and stick them out in a remote area and expect it to go perfectly. You’ve got to find the right people for those jobs, and that’s tough at the moment.
Most questions the News sent to NT Department of Health on August 9 were not answered:
Regional data is “hard to validate at this time”. What does this mean?
Has the government lost track of its vaccine numbers?
What are the current total vaccination numbers for this region and Alice Springs separately, first / second doses?
How many people were vaccinated in the region in the last week and in the last month?
When was the best week and month for vaccination numbers?
Where are vaccines available in Alice Springs and regional Central Australia?
Is the website https://covidlive.com.au/ a trustworthy source for NT COVID data?
When is Central Australia expected to be fully vaccinated at 70% to meet the goal outlined last week by the Prime Minister?
Is there an issue with interstate travellers being vaccinated in Alice Springs? Is this a practice the department is aware of?
How many people are quarantining at the Todd and Ross facilities, what are their capacities?
What preparations are in place if the region needs to go in lock down? Do these get reviewed, who is involved, what are the plans for supplying essentials to remote communities?
What actions would take place if a case was announced in Alice Springs tomorrow?
Or Yuendumu? Papunya? Mutitjulu? Utopia? Santa Teresa?
Do these communities all have their own unique, step by step response plan for an active case? What is it? (E.g. supplies, lockdown, services, education.)
How available is testing in these areas?
Response on August 13, 4:30pm:
Since 18 February 2021, 23,236 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to people with a residential address in Alice Springs through a combination of NT Health, Aboriginal Health Organisations, GP Clinics and Community Pharmacists.
NT Health operates the Alice Springs COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic on the corner of Gap Road and Stuart Terrace, which operates seven days a week from 8:30am until 7pm Monday to Friday and 8:30am until 3:45pm on weekends.
The Alice Springs COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic has this week increased its hours of operation until 9pm seven days a week to cater for those unable to attend during working hours.
Details of other vaccine service providers in the Alice Springs region can be found at www.coronavirus.nt.gov.au and trusted information can be found at www.coronavirus.nt.gov.au and the Australian Government website Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Official Australian Government information
The NT Government is working collaboratively with the Australian Government and service partners to ensure all people in Central Australia have access to a COVID-19 vaccine, the department says.