COVID-19 increases in Australia’s remote Aboriginal communities


A rise in COVID-19 infections in the Northern Territory (NT), coupled with poor underlying health conditions in poor indigenous communities and limited health facilities in remote areas, is driving a major crisis.

Yuendumu in central Australia

Since quarantine requirements for domestic visitors to NT were scrapped on December 20, more than 11,000 new infections have been recorded in the territory. Before the borders reopened, only 363 cases had been detected in the 21 months following the first positive test in the territory. Almost two-thirds were overseas arrivals in quarantine.

There are currently 95 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Northern Territories, up from 13 on December 20. The territory has officially recorded two deaths from COVID-19, both in the past two months, and both in Indigenous communities. The first was a woman in her 60s from the Binjari community near Katherine, and the second a fully vaccinated woman in her 40s from the Bagot community in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territories.

Another death was reported yesterday, that of a man in Tennant Creek who died of cardiac arrest while in the “early stages of COVID”, according to NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles, but this has not been included in the official figures “at this stage. .”

In a joint open letter sent to Michael Gunner, Chief Minister of the NT Labor Government, the Central Land Council, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT said the territory’s failure to act quickly had ” directly led to the spread of control Covid in Aboriginal communities in Central Australia and beyond.

The groups have called for an “immediate lockdown” of Central Australia, in the southern part of the territory.

The region is currently under a limited ‘lockdown’, which means unlimited travel is allowed within the area for people who have received at least two doses of the vaccine, while unvaccinated people are limited to a radius of 30 kilometers and are only allowed to leave their homes for essential goods. and services, medical treatment and masked exercise. An indoor mask mandate is in place for all residents.

Since the border reopened, the territory’s government has done little to stop transmission. Wearing a mask was not compulsory until December 31 and, while QR code check-ins were required, the check-in app sent no exposure alerts for 10 days over Christmas, just when the thrust was accelerating.

In these circumstances, when people have not received the necessary resources or public health education to prevent the spread of the virus, the role of lockdowns is to punish the most vulnerable for the government’s reckless policies. .

Monday, the Guardian reported that an elderly woman with COVID-19 was forced to sleep outside and self-isolate under a tree to avoid infecting loved ones, including a person on dialysis and a young child.

One of the woman’s relatives said, “People with HIV stayed at home, in every house in Yuendumu. [a remote Aboriginal community 260 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs], that’s how the spread went very quickly.

More than 140 people in the community of about 800 people have contracted the virus since the outbreak was first reported on January 8. Yuendumu is just one of dozens of indigenous communities across the territory in which COVID-19 is circulating.

While 95% of the Northern Territory’s population is fully vaccinated, only 67% of Yuendumu have received two doses of the vaccine. In some remote Aboriginal communities, that figure is as low as 38%.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 in Indigenous communities is a stark expression of the class issues at the center of the pandemic. Decades of oppression and malicious neglect have resulted in widespread poverty and Third World living and health conditions. According to 2016 census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 10.8% of Yuendumu residents work full time and 50% of the population is unemployed.

In 2019, 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker was shot dead by police in Yuendumu and bled to death without receiving professional emergency treatment. The local health clinic had been closed by NT authorities the previous day.

Across Australia, 98 deaths were reported today, 39 in Victoria, 35 in New South Wales (NSW), 18 in Queensland, 5 in South Australia and 1 in the Australian Capital Territory.

Of the deaths in New South Wales, 8 people had received three doses of the vaccine, 15 had received two and 12 were unvaccinated. One of those who received two doses of the vaccine was a man in his 40s.

As deaths mount, government figures around the country continue to claim that Omicron’s push has reached or will soon reach its peak, part of a barrage of propaganda aimed at forcing teachers and students back to school. school and parents to return to work.

While the number of daily infections appears to be falling in most parts of the country, the complete collapse of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing since late December and the lack of availability of rapid antigen tests (RATs) mean that official figures are grossly underestimated. the true extent of the spread.

Over the past two years, private pathology companies have raked in billions of dollars from government-funded PCR testing. With test positivity rates of 1% or less for much of the pandemic, these companies have been able to maximize profits by pooling up to 20 samples during each test, reducing the need to invest in more samples. laboratory equipment.

When the more infectious variant of Omicron arrived and met with rejection from virtually all public health measures, positivity rates soared to 30% or more, meaning samples had to be tested individually.

Without the testing capacity to do so, testing sites were shut down and people waited days for test results, which in some cases never arrived.

The Australian governments’ response to this crisis has been to change the rules, limiting PCR testing to close household contacts and people with symptoms.

Despite the complete failure of testing, more than 2 million COVID-19 infections have been recorded in Australia this year, more than four times as many as in 2020 and 2021 combined.

The relentless promotion of the idea that the virus has peaked deliberately obscures the fundamental nature of pandemic viruses. The return to in-person learning across the country will lead to increased infections, as recognized by the very leaders who forced the reopening.

Dr Gaetan Burgio, from the Australian National University, told NCA NewsWire: ‘In my view, it is too early for Australia to ease restrictions as schools reopen and another spike in infection is planned.”

The onset of winter, Burgio said, “will definitely have an impact on the transmission of the virus and its spread.” Burgio noted, “With the surge of Omicron, it is now clear that Australia is no longer different from Europe or the United States.”

Already, a new Omicron sub-variant, BA.2, is circulating in at least 40 countries. University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Nancy Baxter warned yesterday that initial data showed ‘it may be more contagious than Omicron’. Baxter said “if it gets here it can spread our waves out and they can take a lot longer to come out.”

This is a direct result of the “let it rip” policies imposed by virtually every capitalist government in the world – with the notable exception of China – which continue to ensure mass infection and continued mutation of the virus.

As the current spike in infections in Aboriginal communities in Australia makes clear, it is the most vulnerable sections of the working class who will suffer the worst consequences of the subordination of public health to the profit demands of big business. This includes schoolchildren and teachers who are currently being forced back into dangerous face-to-face learning.

The only alternative to the continuing waves of massive infections, disease and death is a struggle by the international working class for the global elimination of COVID-19. This is inseparable from the fight for the social interests of the entire working class, including a major expansion of quality public housing, health and education, and well-paid and secure jobs in remote areas.

It means a struggle for socialism and the reorganization of society to put the health and lives of ordinary workers before the interests of the wealthy elite.


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