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Vaccines rushed to NSW indigenous community as bush towns struggle

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The new front in the battle against the Delta strain of coronavirus is western NSW, where there are now 25 locally acquired COVID-19 cases, many of them in the predominantly indigenous area of Walgett.

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The NSW government freely admits the region’s ability to cope with the virus is creating a “big challenge” for health services.

Fuelling concern is a combination of significant indigenous populations, low vaccination rates and relatively poor health services.

Eight cases were recorded in Dubbo and two in Walgett until 8pm on Thursday night, only to see a further 15 people testing positive to COVID since then. More infections are expected in the coming days.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Friday said an additional 8000 vaccines are being sent to Walgett in the state’s northwest, where about 80 per cent of the 6500 residents in the region are Aboriginal.

Hazzard acknowledged the difficulties facing the Aboriginal medical service in Walgett as well as problems delivering adequate vaccine supplies.

He didn’t outline how many intensive care beds or ventilators were available to western NSW communities, should they be required.

“The ICU in a hospital in a place like that is nowhere near what we would expect in Sydney,” he told reporters.

“That is why the entire NSW Health service is on high alert and is asking the community up there to definitely stay at home.”

One COVID-19 patient in western NSW is currently in intensive care, Western NSW local health district chief executive Scott McLachlan said.

The Dharriwaa Elders Group at Walgett had issued an urgent request on Thursday evening for more nurses to support Aboriginal Medical Services. Hazzard admitted those services were understaffed.

A one-week lockdown began on Wednesday for the areas of Walgett, Dubbo, Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Narromine and Warren.

NSW Deputy Chief Health Officer Marianne Gale urged residents to stay home.

“Some of the cases are Aboriginal people, and we are conscious in that part of the state many of our Aboriginal communities often come from large families and do move around as part of cultural practice,” she said.

In other parts of regional NSW, five new cases were on Friday reported in the Hunter New England area and two new cases on the Central Coast.

While there were no new cases recorded in the Tamworth, Armidale and Northern Rivers regions, they remain under lockdown.

NSW Health’s sewage surveillance has detected fragments of the virus in the systems of Tamworth, Bomaderry, Bathurst, Parkes and Bourke.

Two case sof COVID-19 was on Friday also reportedly uncovered at Bathurst Correctional Centre.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also put the NSW South Coast on alert due to its proximity to Canberra, locked down due to a growing number of cases.

“I know people are concerned about movements that occurred overnight from the ACT to parts of our South Coast, we have had concern from community leaders about that today,” Berejiklian said.

It comes after a second man was on Friday charged with leaving Sydney and visiting Byron Bay, prompting a lockdown in NSW’s northern rivers region. The 19-year-old will face a NSW court in late September.

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