A COVID-19 outbreak in one remote central Australian Indigenous community is being blamed on a hotel quarantine breach by the Northern Territory government.
COVID-19 first appeared in the community of Yuendumu at the start of the year and has grown to 94 infections after another 14 residents tested positive yesterday.
The government has been blaming the outbreak on “disappointing” vaccine uptake, but it’s been revealed that on Sunday a bunch of COVID-positive people were inexplicably released from hotel quarantine early, contributing to the numbers.
A group of people were evacuated from Yuendumu to the Alice Springs quarantine facility last week after they were identified as close contacts. But they were sent home “unexpectedly” four days early and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
They were flown back and sent back to their homes from quarantine without being tested on arrival and without local authorities expecting their return. Two days later, several tested positive.
CEO of the Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation Johanna Ward told Guardian Australia they were only tested once the emergency response team realised they were out of quarantine and in the community.
“There were a number of people who were positive. We haven’t been provided with that number. So the community is very angry,” she said.
The NT government is now facing calls from the community to explain what the hell happened.
Last week NT Deputy Health Minister Nicole Manison said the town’s 65 per cent first vaccination rate and 41 per cent double vaccination rate was “disappointing”.
But Ward said the quarantine release had clearly contributed to the rapid rise in cases, and is seeking an explanation and an apology from the government.
“Given the circumstances and the relationship today between Yuendumu community being in some way blamed for not taking up vaccination adequately to combat COVID hitting here, the community are now saying, ‘We’ve been blamed for it, but now you have brought back people who are positive and infected us’.
“So yes, they would like an apology, but also to be confident that it can’t happen again to us or any other community. From a systemic perspective, what’s going to prevent this from happening to another community?”
Ward also said that not enough was being done to protect people in the community, many of whom share residents with a number of others and can’t isolate or quarantine.
“The support that’s being provided, and the model being used, is not effective in a remote setting,” she said.
“For example, people have been advised or told to isolate in their home – and they may be sharing that home with up to 20 people. At one stage, one of the quarantining homes had 23 residents. And these residents, these homes, only have one bathroom and one toilet.”
She said people needed better communication from health authorities and politicians and more information and resources provided to workers on the ground.
“People here aren’t vulnerable, they’re neglected.”
COVID cases don’t seem to be dropping in the NT yet either. It recorded 459 yesterday, 418 cases on Wednesday, 625 on Tuesday, 284 on Monday, 327 on Sunday and 412 on Saturday.