As the State of New South Wales (NSW) in Australia strives to contain the third wave of COVID-19, the wave saw a record 681 new cases on Thursday. The crisis in a crisis is being caused by high infection rates and hospitalization rates. Proportion of the aboriginal unfolds.

After the emergence of COVID-19 clusters in inland towns and remote rural communities in the western part of the state, a lockdown was imposed across the state last weekend, with a quarter of them identified as indigenous.

About 300 kilometers (186 miles) west of Sydney, the shepherd town of Dubbo, barely affected by the pandemic, is now the center of the western outbreak, with 167 active cases. Seven out of ten people diagnosed with the virus are indigenous, and nearly half of them are indigenous children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 years.

“It spreads very quickly in Aboriginal communities. No similar outbreak has occurred in such a concentrated space anywhere in remote areas of Australia,” Dubbo City Mayor Stephen Lawrence told Al Jazeera.

“This is a double whammy because the health outcomes and vulnerabilities of these communities are particularly severe, which makes them even more vulnerable.”

Intergenerational health gap

Aboriginal people in rural New South Wales and the western inland areas often live in crowded houses with extended families and are in poorer health than non-indigenous Australians [File: Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), Australia’s 670,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders have long been in poor health and still suffer from preventable diseases such as trachoma. These diseases cannot be found anywhere else in developed countries .

One-third of people die at the age of 45, and the average life expectancy of Indigenous people is more than 10 years less than that of non-indigenous Australians. The incidence of rheumatic heart disease among the Australian “indigenous” population is the highest in the world-75 times higher than the incidence among non-indigenous Australians. Gastroenteritis, kidney disease, diabetes, flu-the list of chronic diseases continues to increase, and explains why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were identified as “a clearly defined vulnerable community” when the Australian vaccine was launched in February.

However, the use of vaccines has been slow. Compared with 50% of the general population, only 29% of Indigenous Australians received a dose of the vaccine, and only 15% were fully vaccinated, compared to the national average of 26%. According to the New South Wales Department of Health, the number of indigenous people in western New South Wales is even worse, with only about 8% of the indigenous people fully vaccinated.

Dr. Kalinda Griffiths, an indigenous woman who teaches health data research at the University of New South Wales, said that the government’s confusing information about the safety of AstraZeneca vaccines against young people and church groups who oppose vaccination is exacerbating the vaccine. The hesitation in the indigenous communities.

“We know that several church groups have gone out to tell people not to get vaccinated. The church has a very large impact on people in remote areas, so it has caused a lot of confusion,” she said.

housing issues

In the poor town of Wilkania, about 500 kilometers (311 miles) west of Dubbo, where 69% of the population is Aboriginal, 6 new cases of COVID-19 were detected this week.

In an aboriginal community in western New South Wales, a dog sleeps on the side of the road [File: Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

“Now, people are scared,” a community elder in Wilkania told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity. “Our unemployment rate is unbelievably high, the intergenerational socioeconomic is at a disadvantage-and now this. It creates a sense of resignation. People just shrugged and said that I am black, poor, and life is a mess.”

The chronic housing shortage in the First Nations communities has exacerbated the outbreak in Wilkania and other population centers in the arid region of the western part of the state.

“The reality of living in remote rural communities is that there will still be a housing crisis in 2021. Absolute poverty is the norm. You share a home with your uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews, and some people sleep on your bed. Sofa,” Wilkanne The community elder in Asia explained.

Dubbo City Mayor Lawrence said the extended family made it difficult to comply with and enforce the blockade.

“For people living in beautiful houses in the city and country folks with large families living in crowded residential areas, lockdown means different things,” he said.

“We are currently conducting large-scale compliance actions, but we are facing a huge challenge because the aboriginals of Dubbo have very close ties with the communities of Walgate, Burke, and other northern towns. We are the hospital base for these communities. , So anyone who is sick must come here, which also increases the chance of transmission. This is not a double blow, but a triple blow,” he said.

About 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of Wilkania, the inland mining town of Broken Hill recorded the first COVID-19 case since the pandemic began on Tuesday.

“The key strategy to reduce transmission is blockade,” said Darriea Turley, the mayor of the town. “However, in places like us where there are not many services, hospitals do not have intensive care units or isolation wards, and important staff have to go home, people are all in houses where they sleep, how can you lock in the small remote communities around us? When you have such a housing problem, how do you manage the labor force safely?”

Military law enforcement

As the transmission rate is still climbing and the lockdown period in western New South Wales has been extended to August 28, the government has sent troops to help people in the area provide welfare, implement lockdowns and vaccinate.

Beginning Saturday, five “highly mobile, highly flexible and well-trained” teams of approximately 70 military personnel will monitor Pfizer vaccination clinics that do not require appointments to vaccinate in Dubbo and other vulnerable communities in the west. Another 50 unarmed soldiers will assist the police in complying with regulations and distribute nursing baskets to those in self-isolation.

“We are working closely with Indigenous communities to ensure their safety, to ensure that people are tested, and to ensure that people who have been in contact with other cases are aware that they need to be isolated,” the NSW Health Protection Executive Director told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday .

But the community elders in Wilkania said the statement only showed that the bureaucracy in Sydney was out of touch with the far west: “The idea of ​​overcrowding and isolating at home is absurd. There is no place to isolate.”

Official reports show that there is a huge gap in the health of Australian Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Indigenous people suffer from diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and were identified as “clearly defined vulnerable communities” when the COVID-19 vaccine was launched [File: Lokas Coch/EPA]

Broken Hill Mayor Turley expressed a similar view.

“What is happening now is to be expected, because when the outbreak broke out in Sydney, the state government refused to solve the regional travel problem. It will take a month for the vaccine to start working, so what they are doing now is too little, too late. All we can do is hold our breath and see what happens in the next 48 hours,” she said.


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