An Aboriginal man has sadly become the first person to die from COVID-19 in regional NSW since the current Delta outbreak began, amidst concerns for impacts of COVID-19 in Aboriginal communities.
The man, who was from Dubbo, was aged in his 50s and had underlying health conditions. He died in the intensive care unit of Dubbo hospital.
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney, said the man’s death was preventable.
“He was a grand uncle who saw his grandchild just once, I saw that on a Facebook post from his niece this afternoon,” Burney said.
“There is too little, too late in western NSW. We know that the federal government was warned back in March 2020 that this was going to be the outcome if they did not step in.”
Despite vaccination rates increasing, COVID is spreading rapidly in regional communities. The man’s death comes as 51 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the western NSW overnight, bringing the total number in the region to 561, with around 65% of those cases being Aboriginal people.
Barkindji woman and rapper Chloe Quayle, also known as Barkaa, described the devastating impacts of the virus on the regional town of Wilcannia, in western NSW, to ABC‘s The World Today program.
“Wilcannia was a flourishing community once upon a time,” she said.
“Now mob are isolating in tents down on the river and stuff and sleeping out the front if they test positive. How are you supposed to isolate when there is so much overcrowding in the homes?”
Wilcannia, a small town in far western NSW with a population of around 600 people (who are predominantly Aboriginal) has seen more than 60 COVID cases as of Sunday, with around 11% of the population infected since June.
Around 55% of Wilcannia’s population has now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with fully vaccinated numbers between 25% and 30%.
“It’s ripping through the community like wildfire at the moment, which is really, really scary,” Quayle said.
“As a Barkinji woman, this was my worst nightmare for it to ever hit my community, especially when we know the statistics and the early death rates of our mob due to colonial disease.
“It’s heartbreaking. I just hope my mob can get through this. It’s so scary it feels like a nightmare.”
Health officials recently admitted that the town does not have a ventilator despite the high rate of transmission.
— NITV (@NITV) August 26, 2021
And on top of that, Wilcannia was suffering from a food crisis as the only grocery store became a COVID exposure site. With claims that health authorities were delivering unsuitable and expired food, and generally being useless, community leaders were left to raise money on their own.
The online fundraiser has since raised over $300,000.