The Northern Territory government has cancelled non-essential trips to remote indigenous communities to protect vulnerable citizens from the coronavirus.
History indicates Aboriginal populations are more adversely affected by global pandemics due to worse health and disadvantage.
During the 2009 swine flu outbreak, they comprised 11 per cent of cases while representing only three per cent of the population, and their death rate was six times higher.
Government staff and non-government organisations have been urged to reconsider all remote trips.
NT Health officials met with remote and rural health stakeholders on Thursday to finalise action plans for inevitable coronavirus cases in remote communities.
“It was the largest single planning exercise ever done across the whole of the Northern Territory,” NT deputy chief health officer Dianne Stephens said.
“The exercise included what happens when one person potentially has the disease, how do we get testing done, where are we going to put them in the community to isolate them, how will we evacuate them out of the community.
Tiwi Islands authorities decided on Friday not to allow visitors to the biggest day of the year – its football league grand final and art sale on Sunday.
More than 1000 visitors come by plane or ferry for the event each year, including interstate tourists who might have been exposed to COVID-19.
The separate Northern Territory Football League grand final on Saturday is going ahead as normal with full access for fans.
The federal government has advised that mass gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled nationwide from Monday.
An AFLW match between Melbourne and Carlton in Alice Springs on Saturday will go ahead, but has been closed to spectators.
There are no known cases of the virus in the Territory’s indigenous communities, which are home to nearly 60,000 people.
So far, there has been one confirmed case in the NT – a 52-year-old man from Sydney who tested positive after flying into Darwin last week.
Dr Stephens said the 3000-room former Inpex workers village, recently used to quarantine travellers from Wuhan in China and a cruise ship off Japan, would be used again for Darwin residents if there was a large outbreak.
She also said schools should not be cancelling events independent of government advice, amid reports of parent-teacher interviews being called off and families told to self-quarantine after travelling overseas.
“While at all times we want to keep the community safe and limit spread of the virus, we want to make sure we can all go about our daily business as much as possible as this event unfolds,” she said.
Australian Associated Press