A fleet of camper vans is now providing emergency quarantine facilities in a remote outback town in Australia where over 10% of the mostly indigenous population is infected with the coronavirus. A lack of accommodation for COVID-19 patients and their close contacts in Wilcannia, 1,000 kilometers northwest of Sydney, has highlighted a chronic housing problem in many First Nation communities.
Wilcannia has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 transmission in the Australian state of New South Wales.
More than 13% of the town of 800 people have contracted the contagious disease. About 60% of the population is indigenous.
Thirty camper vans will provide temporary accommodation for the close contacts of infected patients. Officials had raised concerns about aboriginal residents’ ability to safely isolate themselves in overcrowded homes from family members who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Providing adequate and affordable housing is part of the government’s long-term strategy to improve indigenous health and wellbeing.
But Dr Jason Agostino, a senior medical adviser to the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that much more needs to be done.
“What is happening in Wilcannia and in western New South Wales is because of a lack of investment in appropriate housing for aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people over decades. You know, we saw the swine ‘flu pandemic particularly impact aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people back in 2009, and it is poor housing that is at the heart of rheumatic heart disease across Australia. Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people have some of the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease in the world, and it is completely unacceptable when at the heart of that is this poor housing,” Agostino said.
Charities have said the delta variant of COVID-19 has caused a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in Wilcannia’s aboriginal community. Members already suffer from many chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. Australian indigenous leaders have insisted the government’s regional response to the pandemic has been “ill-prepared and slow.”
The military has been sent to the region to help, along with fire service volunteers and Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Also, the first shipments of 4 million Pfizer vaccine doses arrived in Sydney Sunday from Britain under a drug exchange deal to boost Australia’s inoculation drive.
About 38% of eligible Australians are fully vaccinated.
More than half of the population remains in lockdown, including residents in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, as delta variant cases continue to increase.
Authorities say restrictions will begin to be relaxed gradually when more than 70% of Australians were fully inoculated.
Authorities have recorded about 62,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,000 fatalities in Australia since the pandemic began.