Tue. Jul 5th, 2022

Leaders in Yuendumu say they are angry and frustrated at what they have called a slow response from the NT government following the spread of coronavirus to central Australian society.

Yuendumu, located about 300 kilometers northwest of Alice Springs and nearby Yuelamu, was put under a five-day lockout on Monday after three cases were identified in local communities on January 7.

Central Australian society has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the territory.

Forty-one percent of the community is fully vaccinated, and 65 percent have received at least one dose.

Northern Territory Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie has warned that without a significant change in these statistics, the outbreak could result in “loss of life”.

At least 15 close contacts from the original cases have tested positive, and despite plans to evacuate these people, only eight had been removed from Yuendumu late in the day on January 10th.

Additional cases were removed on January 11th.

Elder Wendy Nungarrayi Brown looks at the camera while sitting on a chair.
Elder Wendy Nungarrayi Brown says authorities were too slow to help the community.(ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

Warlpiri elder Wendy Nungarrayi Brown said the community was “scared” and “concerned” that it had taken the government several days to take the outbreak seriously.

“They should have acted immediately, not waited for a few days,” she said.

ABC understands that six houses, including a heavily crowded home, are in isolation.

Response time

Dr. Heggie said the approach taken in Yuendumu was heavily dependent on testing and on people isolating themselves at home.

This strategy, he said, would now be the government’s response to coronavirus in communities as Omicron begins to spread through the territory.

A public health sign showing how to cough safely is seen on a wall.
Misinformation and acute hesitation with vaccines in Yuendumu have made residents uncomfortable by engaging in the problem. (ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

But it marks a significant departure from the government’s approach in the communities of Binjari, Lajamanu and Ali Curung, who saw the immediate imposition of strict restrictions and a large influx of health and police personnel.

This change of attitude has worried leaders like Mrs Brown, who said there was serious concern that the government was acting too slowly and without enough force to deal with the arrival of the virus.

A two-person task force entered the community of 800 people over the weekend, and a team of six began work on Monday to test and vaccinate residents.

The outbreak comes at a time when NT Health is facing severe staff shortages and NT’s hospital system is under pressure from an increasing number of COVID patients.

On Tuesday, Nicole Manison expressed disappointment that only 11 vaccines had been administered in Yuendumu since the onset of the outbreak, but there were reportedly capacity teams on site that were able to take care of the outbreak.

Vaccine push

The caregiver of eight children, Valerie Martin, usually lives in Alice Springs and works as an interpreter.

Ms Martin, who is fully vaccinated, said the community’s interest in the vaccine was “growing”, but staffing problems at the clinic had hampered the availability of the vaccine in recent weeks.

Valerie Martin sits in the Yuendumu community near a child holding a dog.
Mrs Martin says talking to people who are hesitant about getting a vaccine creates unwelcome conflict.(ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

The week before Yuendumu registered her first case, she tried to get two of her grandchildren vaccinated, but was unable to do so due to staffing issues.

She said she was “scared” and wanted to do “the right thing”.

“I knew [COVID] was on the way, that’s why I needed my grandchildren to get a plug, “she said.

Ms Martin said misinformation and persistent fear of the vaccine meant people were reluctant and she had grown tired of engaging with people on the subject.

“You can not go to people who are not sure of getting a plug, it creates conflict,” she said.

“I do not want to create conflict.”

Yuendumu and Yuelmu are due to be ruled out on Friday, but Prime Minister Michael Gunner has suggested that the measure be extended if the vaccination rate remains low and the number of cases continues to grow.

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