Travel ban imposed to curb Covid-19 in indigenous Australians

High inoculation rates in major cities have allowed Sydney and Melbourne to remove restrictions and learn to live with the virus. PHOTO: AFP

DARWIN (BLOOMBERG) - Australia's government has banned travel to or from a remote region of the Northern Territory in a bid to help curb the spread of a Covid-19 outbreak among First Nations people in the area.

The Northern Territory on Wednesday (Nov 17) reported six new cases - all in Indigenous people. That took a cluster linked to the regional centre of Katherine, 200 miles (320km) from the capital Darwin, and the isolated Robinson River settlement to 17.

While indigenous Australians make up about 3 per cent of the nation's entire population, that proportion soars in Outback regions that in recent months have been exposed to the virus for the first time since the pandemic began.

These rural communities are particularly vulnerable because of higher rates of underlying health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

High inoculation rates in major cities have allowed Sydney and Melbourne to remove restrictions and learn to live with the virus.

Still, officials in the Northern Territory are grappling with how to reopen to the rest of the country; only 59 per cent of people aged 16 or over living in remote communities are fully vaccinated, health data show, compared with an 81 per cent inoculation rate for all areas.

People will now only be able to come or go from the Robinson River area and its surrounds for essential purposes, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement. The ban will be in place until at least 6pm on Thursday.

Labor Senator for the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy said nine members of her family had contracted Covid-19 in Katherine.

The indigenous lawmaker said the federal government had failed to provide enough vaccination information in First Nations languages to address "completely disgraceful" anti-vaccination messages on social media.

The government needed to urgently address overcrowding in indigenous housing, which makes isolating from positive Covid-19 cases nearly impossible, Ms McCarthy told state broadcaster the Australian Broadcasting Corp Wednesday.

More communication is also needed to address the sense of shame felt by individuals who had been involved in outbreaks.

"Once the Covid hit in our communities, there became this sense of shame and fear that there were going to be recriminations for causing problems," Ms McCarthy said.

The territory's government has also imposed a lockdown for the broader Katherine area until Monday, as well as a territory-wide mask mandate.

"This is obviously a serious escalation in the Covid-19 situation in the Northern Territory," Chief Minister Michael Gunner said on Tuesday, state broadcaster the ABC reported.

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