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Drive-by swabbing: Tests ordered for border towns as Delta closes in


As north-west NSW deals with a potential COVID-19 crisis, locals in two nearby Queensland towns are calling ahead to make sure they can get tested from the safety of their cars.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has urged Queenslanders in the border zone not to cross the border, even for groceries, as she holds talks with mayors about other measures to guard against COVID-19.

The growing number of COVID-19 hotspots declared in NSW, and now all of the Australian Capital Territory, has Palaszczuk warning of the need to tighten Queensland’s defences in the coming days.

The Australian Capital Territory will lock down for seven days after a man was infectious for several days throughout Canberra. The move has forced some federal MPs to flee the national capital early after parliamentary sittings are suspended once the lockdown kicks in at 5pm Thursday.

The Delta variant has already reached the remote NSW town of Walgett, which is just over an hour’s drive from the Queensland border. More staff and potentially even Defence personnel will be sent to the town to help prevent it spreading.

More vaccines have also been sent to south-west Queensland, where police have ramped up surveillance of the border to prevent people escaping southern hotspots.

However, some people may have already travelled from at-risk areas, before they were placed into lockdown, and Queensland Health wants to be in a position to detect the first of any cases in rural towns.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young today urged Queenslanders to remain vigilant and be ready for a swift response if required.

Balonne Shire Council Mayor Samantha O’Toole today said COVID-19 testing was available at Dirranbandi and Mungindi Hospitals via a drive-through service.

“Anyone wishing to be tested should drive to the hospital and telephone the switchboard from their vehicle,” O’Toole said in a statement.

“A hospital staff member will come out and administer the test.”

O’Toole said she believed people had travelled back from Walgett over the past week. She urged anyone who had been to a hotspot to immediately get tested and then isolate at home pending further advice.

On Wednesday night, the NSW Government ordered a snap lockdown in the council areas of Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Narromine, Walgett and Warren, all visited by a man who tested positive after leaving Bathurst jail.

Of particular concern is Walgett, which has a large Indigenous population and will require emergency resources to respond. Residents of the 6000-strong town were in long queues on Thursday to get tested.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he received a text message on Wednesday night that the local Aboriginal health service didn’t have enough staff to respond.

He wrote to the Federal Government to ask for more support, and thousands of vaccine doses were being diverted to indigenous communities in western NSW.

The NSW government has ruled out a statewide COVID-19 lockdown for the time being as the virus continues to bleed into the regions.

Additional military troops are likely to be called into virus-hit areas of NSW and may be used to help administer AstraZeneca vaccines.

NSW reported 345 new local COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday and at least 91 were in the community while infectious, while 138 remain under investigation.

Two Sydney men in their 90s have also died, including one resident of Wyoming Aged Care in Summer Hill. One of the men had received one vaccination dose while the other was fully vaccinated.

-with AAP

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