Australia Torres and Cape disaster management groups call for rapid testing of people entering communities

07:37  15 january  2022
07:37  15 january  2022 Source:   abc.net.au

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As COVID cases began to reach Queensland's most remote locations in December, disaster management groups sent requests to the state's Chief Health Officer (CHO) for lockouts, to stop people from entering their communities.

The requests were rejected, and the groups were told the government had "no appetite" for lockouts.

Now Torres and Cape disaster management groups are requesting the Queensland government prioritise vulnerable First Nations communities by rapid testing people entering the community.

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Mayor Phillemon Mosby says high rates of chronic disease, over-crowding, a housing crisis, limited acute health care and access issues due to remoteness left island communities feeling vulnerable and exposed in the current outbreak.

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"We thought that there would be special consideration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander discrete communities given the health disadvantage of our people," Cr Mosby said.

"Because of how culturally family orientated all of our 15 island divisions or communities are, it's quite easy and a very high risk of a potential rapid outbreak.

"We [15 outer islands] have to wait for the [COVID] test to be sent to Thursday Island. If you're in a very over-crowded house, the entire family has to go into isolation until the result gets back."

Prior to the Queensland border opening on December 13, Torres and Cape Hospital and Health (TCHHS) service had not recorded any local cases since the start of the pandemic.

COVID cases have now reached five of the 17 occupied islands, with Warraber, Masig and Badu Islands recording their first cases this week.

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Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council Mayor Patricia Yusia said a request to test people coming into the NPA was based on the evidence that COVID entered the community from outside.

"A lot of people want lockdowns and we're letting them know that we don't have the authority to lock down communities," Cr Yusia said.

"They are talking to me, the elders and they're talking to me to make the right decision for our communities."

Teachers return

On Thursday the Queensland government announced that as of 1am on Saturday, border passes and negative tests would no longer be needed to travel.

Torres Shire Council Mayor Vonda Malone said over the weekend about 200 Education Queensland staff are expected to return to the Torres Strait.

Students from 15 outer Islands will converge with staff at the Thursday Island schools at the beginning of the term.

"We're in a state of uncertainty ... our health system is also starting to be stretched because we have one hospital and health service that services the whole Cape and Torres Strait," Cr Malone said.

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"How do we work with the Queensland government and look at some additional measures to slow it down?

"Every flight into our region is essentially bringing the COVID."

The ABC contacted Queensland Education for comment on their policies in place to help protect vulnerable communities and frontline staff and is waiting for a response.

Cr Malone said a lack of infrastructure in remote locations meant if frontline workers of shops, fuel stations or health services were affected it could have a devastating effect.

Rapid antigen tests for the small but vital operators could help prevent the spread of the virus and provide certainty of continuation.

"We know that it is an issue of supply and the Commonwealth and the state, they really have to work together to ensure that First Nations people are given priority," Cr Malone said.

"There has been no commitment ... it would be good if we were afforded a response from the CHO on whether or not our discussion with him about access to the rapid antigen tests will come into fruition."

Heath service receives tests

TCHHS confirmed 77 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 years and over is fully vaccinated and 89 per cent has at least one dose.

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It also confirmed that rapid antigen test (RAT) kits were available but were only administered upon strict criteria; people showing symptoms of COVID, close contacts and people identified by the health service.

TCHHS chief executive Beverley Hamerton said Queensland Health had prioritised the delivery of RAT kits.

"We are receiving adequate deliveries of such kits," she said.

Yadheykenu traditional owner Reg Williams said the community in Bamaga was taking the health advice seriously.

"Soon as we got that news we got all the volunteers around town, or family members, to make up posters and we put them on our front gate," Mr Williams said.

"When people come to see the elderly in that house [they see the] do not enter, must sing out from outside and pass the message, don't come into the yard [posters]".

Mr Williams said there is now an urgency for vaccinations in the community.

"It's scary because it's here now. Last year we only heard about it."

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NSW records 46 deaths and 25,168 new COVID-19 cases .
There are 2743 people in hospital with the virus of whom 209 are in intensive care units. The daily numbers are down on the 30,825 infections and 2781 hospitalisation recorded on Thursday. More than 30 per cent of people aged 18 and older have received a booster shot, while 21.7 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received at least one vaccine dose. Of Friday's positive tests, 10,015 were detected from at-home kits and 15,153 were from PCR testing.

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