10 May 2023

Low vax rates could see communities closed off

| Matt Nicholls
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The states are pushing for an 80 per cent vaccination rate in a bid to open up again, but there are concerns the lower numbers in Indigenous populations could put Cape and Torres Strait people at risk.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said last week that he was open to the idea of individual communities locking down to protect their residents.

“If we open up with 80 per cent for the general population, it doesn’t matter which state and territory, and indigenous Australians are only vaccinated at 40 per cent the rate, then they will be extremely vulnerable,” he told ABC Radio.

“And I know communities are scared because I’ve been talking to people in communities and their leadership.”

Mr Wyatt said last year’s experiences had given him faith that Indigenous communities were in good hands at a local level.

“I have every faith in chief ministers and premiers to make the right call (regarding opening up). Because when COVID first came to Australia we applied the Biosecurity Act, but we didn’t apply it until we had a discussion with all of the ministers for Indigenous Affairs in each of the jurisdictions that were particularly affected,” he said.

“We had conversations with each and every one of them seeking their approval to put the measure into place which locked Aboriginal communities down for a period of time.

“I have no doubt that Premiers, and Ministers for Health, and Ministers for Indigenous Affairs will be very aware of the risk that is facing Indigenous Australians if our vaccination rates aren’t at the same level as Australia’s.

“So that’s why this period gives us the opportunity to do some very concerted focussed activity that will bring the vaccination rates up.

“I will strongly advocate for the protection of Indigenous communities and for concerted efforts throughout this period.

“If we reach that point and if our numbers are low in any area then we will look at measures to prevent that opening up as we did at the beginning of COVID; we used the Biosecurity Act.

“And I know some communities themselves will lock their borders to external people and they did it superbly right at the beginning of this whole COVID-19 process and they’ll do it again.”

Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch said he would back individual communities to protect themselves, but urged all Cape York residents to get vaccinated.

“We can’t be closed forever and this virus will spread when the states open up,” he said.

“Not being vaccinated could prevent you from coming back home and putting your community at risk.

“We won’t see a biosecurity bubble over the whole Cape like last year, but we might see individual communities closed if the vaccination rates don’t lift in some places.”

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