UPDATED: Authorities Concerned About Proportion of COVID-19 Cases in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community

Julie Tongs, Dr.  Vanessa Johnson and Rachel Stephen-Smith

From left to right, Winnunga Nimmityjah CEO Julie Tongs, Vice Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnson and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith at today’s media briefing. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

UPDATED AT 15:00: Despite the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent only 1.7 percent of ACT’s total population, they are overrepresented in COVID-19 case statistics, health officials have confirmed today.

In the last seven days, despite generally low case numbers, 20 percent were registered in Canberra’s indigenous community, a proportion that raises some concerns.

Throughout the outbreak, 11 percent, or 197 cases, have been registered in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, said Deputy Director of Health Dr. Vanessa Johnston today.

Of these, 151 cases were unvaccinated, although 63 were under 12 years of age and therefore not eligible for vaccination.

Dr. Johnston noted that this large proportion of cases under 12 years of age reflected the spread of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations across the territory more widely, as well as the tendency of indigenous peoples to have larger households.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said today that the first-dose vaccination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is about 85 percent, but noted that these data may not be entirely accurate.

She estimated that actual vaccination rates would be higher, but said there is a remnant section of society that does not often engage in regular health care that is left to vaccinate, which is where current efforts are focused.

“Sometimes it’s because people do not have a Medicare card and they are not aware that they can come forward and be vaccinated without one,” she said.

“That’s why it’s really important that we go out into the community and reach these people.”

Ms Stephen-Smith said health authorities are making efforts to go to all areas of society to find anyone left who is unvaccinated and will continue to do so.

Together with ACT Health, Gugan Gulwan and Yeddung Mura, people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are supported from a health and wellness perspective, including if they are to be quarantined.

Winnunga Nimmityjah CEO Julie Tongs is urging her mob to step forward and be vaccinated now.

All Winnunga Nimmityjah staff must now be fully vaccinated and walk-in vaccinations are available on site. Their clinic has administered more than 7,000 vaccines.

Mrs Tongs is somewhat concerned about the amount of misinformation floating around that she has seen lead to hesitation with vaccines.

Although she is convinced that things are going in the right direction now, her concerns about young children catching the virus in schools and transmitting it to their parents and vulnerable elderly are still there.

“We do not want people to die and we have done very well, but we may not do so well in the future,” she said.

A community forum will be held tomorrow (November 3) to give aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members the opportunity to meet with ACT health authorities to ask any questions they may have.

COVID road sign

Canberrans are still reminded to be COVID-conscious. Photo: Media Region.

UPDATED 11:20: ACT has registered eight new COVID-19 cases by 8pm last night.

Yesterday, ACT had five cases. There are currently 153 active cases in ACT.

There are seven people in ACT hospitals with COVID, four of them in intensive care and four in need of ventilation.

Of ACT’s 12-plus population, 93.2 percent are fully vaccinated.

According to ACT Health, about 90 percent of our total cases are not considered ‘fully vaccinated’. Only 10 percent of cases are fully vaccinated at the time of testing positive (known as ‘breakthrough cases’).

In addition, 96 percent of our hospitalized cases have not been fully vaccinated.

NSW has registered 173 new cases and four deaths. Yesterday there were 135 new cases and four deaths.

There are 333 people at the hospital and 72 at UCU.

Of NSW’s 16-plus population, 87.8 percent are now double-vaccinated.

In Victoria, there are 989 new local COVID cases. This is the first time that daily infections have been below 1000 since the end of September.

Yesterday there were 1471 new cases and four deaths.

About 81 percent of Victorians aged 16-plus are fully vaccinated.

Ainslie Schools

Between 60 and 70 people from the Ainslie School community are in quarantine after a positive case attended campus last week. Photo: Google Maps.

10:00: Up to 140 people may be quarantined after positive COVID-19 cases were on the scene last week at Ainslie School and Wanniassa School (Junior Campus).

Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerryn Coleman told a study of the COVID-19 2021 pandemic on Monday afternoon (November 1) that she believes this figure is too high at this stage.

She said between 60 and 70 people from each school community had been quarantined. Many of these would have to remain in isolation for an entire 14-day period, as the majority of students are still unvaccinated.

Dr. Coleman acknowledged that while the ACT does not have as much experience as other jurisdictions with school dropouts, efforts in this area would continue to be refined as the territory moves forward.

She said that work with the Directorate of Education to ensure that schools can remain open as much as possible is underway, and these recent examples had seen ACT Health focus on trying to limit the number of close contacts as much as possible.


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Contact tracing, she said, had focused on only the year in which a case had been found, but the risk assessment could change in the future.

“We have to accept that there will be issues in society and our focus must be on environments with great influence.

“Our focus will be on identifying cases in these high-risk settings as early as possible to prevent further transmission,” said Dr. Coleman to the committee.

Rapid antigen testing may also play a role in the COVID-19 school response of the future, she said.

While the vaccine mandate went into effect yesterday for ACT teachers and school staff coming into contact with children under the age of 12, a spokesman for the Directorate of Education said only very small numbers of staff should be relocated.

Between 97 and 98 percent of school teachers and staff have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, Education Minister Yvette Berry said yesterday.


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Several new exposures have been added to the ACT Government’s list of COVID-19 overnight exposures.

The Aquatic Achievers swimming school is now a relaxed contact point on Wednesday 27 October between 15.40 and 16.20, Thursday 28 October between 18.05 and 19.50, Friday 29 October between 15.50 and 17.35 and Sunday 31 October between kl. 9.25 and 10.45.

Little Istanbul Restaurant is also a casual contact point on Thursday, October 28 between 18.55 and 20.00.

McDonald’s Erindale is listed as a casual venue on Saturday, October 20 between 8:50 and 9:50 p.m.

See the COVID-19 website for more information and instructions that you can follow as a random contact.

More on the way.

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