Residents in a small Aboriginal community on the outskirts of Katherine are anxiously awaiting the results of COVID-19 tests after traces of the virus were detected in wastewater.
- Twenty-five people so far have tested positive to COVID during the Northern Territory’s current outbreak
- A rapid assessment team is conducting COVID tests in the Binjari community, near Katherine
- Authorities are hoping the virus hasn’t spread to other remote communities
“They’re very frightened at the moment,” Deb Aloisi, who runs the Binjari Community Aboriginal Corporation, told ABC Radio Darwin.
The community of more than 200 people is located 16 kilometres south-west of Katherine, which has been in lockdown since Monday following the emergence of a growing coronavirus cluster.
The virus has already spread hundreds of kilometres away to the remote community of Robinson River, bringing to 25 the number of positive cases linked to the outbreak.
Several close contacts have also been identified in the Central Australian community of Yuendumu, as well as the town of Tennant Creek.
Following the wastewater detection in Binjari, a response team was mobilised on Friday to conduct door-to-door testing and offer vaccinations.
Ms Aloisi said the situation in the community was confronting for many residents.
“They get scared because the Territory health vehicle comes in and the guys are all gowned up and masked up … and a big shield on their face,” she said.
Ms Aloisi said food drops and other support services were being organised but she was critical about a lack of communication from authorities.
“No one communicates with the community,” she said.
“No one rings me to tell us what’s going on.”
Ms Aloisi said mobile testing, like what is now taking place, should have been conducted in Binjari as soon as the outbreak began in Katherine.
“I don’t understand why that wasn’t the first thing that the government did – it’s beyond me,” she said.
“Binjari people come into town every single day and mingle with people and go back.”
She also raised concerns about the lack of precise data regarding vaccination rates in the community, which is managed by the Wurli Wurlinjang Health Service.
On the NT government’s coronavirus website, Binjari is included among a group of nearby communities that all have rates below 70 per cent.
“Can you please tell me so that we can encourage people to go [get a jab],” she said.
The primary healthcare manager of another health service in the region said the wastewater result in the Binjari community was a “concern” for all surrounding communities.
“We’re thinking of the Binjari mob at this time and hoping they will come forward, get tested, screened and vaccinated if they can,” said Sigrid McGuinness from the Katherine West Health Board.
The Aboriginal-controlled service delivers healthcare, including COVID-19 vaccines, to communities west of Katherine, including Yarralin, Timber Creek, Lajamanu and Kalkarindji.
While Katherine West does not provide health services in Binjari, there are strong ties between that community and the more remote places in their healthcare region.
“It is on the west side of town, people do stop in at Binjari on their way through [to Katherine West communities],” Ms McGuinness said.
Katherine West has had a record week for vaccines, delivering more than 280 doses across its network of remote clinics, helped along by extra nurses from the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service, who spent this week in Timber Creek.
But Ms McGuinness said it was still a “scary time” for health workers.
“We’re still unsure of how far this has spread,” she said.
“We urge people to come forward to get screened and swabbed and then also get advice on vaccination, get vaccinated if you can.
“It’s the best way to protect yourself from this disease and from the community.”