NSW Covid update: fear for Indigenous communities in west as state records 390 new cases

New South Wales is facing a potential crisis in Indigenous communities in the state’s west, with 25 new cases in Dubbo overnight and more cases in Walgett, as the state hit a new record of 390 new cases in the 24 hours to 8pm Thursday.

There are also concerns about possible spread to the south coast of NSW, with reports that people from the ACT, which went into lockdown yesterday due to a new outbreak of the Delta variant, were moving to coastal towns.

There is also concern about the spread of cases in Blacktown and Mt Druitt.

“Unfortunately this trend will continue for at least the next few days. It means all of us have to work harder to make sure we start and follow the rules,” the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said.

But she denied authorities were looking at a statewide lockdown as early as tonight.

Crisis cabinet is meeting this afternoon.

She also indicated that NSW was fully supportive of the 70% and 80% thresholds for vaccination that are outlined in the Doherty report for relaxing restrictions and that opening hotels and clubs was unlikely before that time.

Fifty-eight cases were infectious in the community, 43 were in isolation for part of their infectious period and the isolation status of 191 remains under investigation.

Crisis cabinet will review the lockdown rules after advice from the NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller. Police have been frustrated in policing the rules because of loopholes and a lack of clarity on aspects such as travelling outside lockdown areas and the singles bubble rules.

Further announcements are expected today.

But the immediate challenge is western NSW. Four schools have been closed in Dubbo and health authorities are rushing to establish more testing and vaccination clinics.

“Obviously there is a big challenge in north-western New South Wales because the townships and towns we’re talking about are principally places like Walgett,” the health minister, Brad Hazzard said.

Walgett has about 3,500 people generally in town and 6,500 in the broader area, of which about 80% were Indigenous, he said.

“There is an Aboriginal medical service there which does excellent work, a very large building and a reasonable number of staff. They manage in normal times but trying to manage if there is a major outbreak with a one-in-100-year virus is going to be a challenge for them,” he said.

The nearest base hospital is in Dubbo, but it too has very limited intensive care facilities and specialist staff, which means Covid-19 cases would likely need to be taken to Orange or Sydney.

“Is it a serious issue for the local community? It is, very much so. The ICU in a hospital in a place like that is nowhere near what we would expect in Sydney. That is why the entire New South Wales Health service is on high alert and is asking the community up there to definitely stay at home,” he said.

Hazzard said he had written to the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, saying NSW “would need them to step in and do work that they said they would be doing much earlier and that is to try and vaccinate as many people as was possible”.

He said Hunt responded within an hour or two and indicated they would have the appropriate teams in place and would get the Australian Defence Force mobilised as well.

But authorities are particularly concerned because of large households often including several generations and because Aboriginal people often have co-morbidities, such as diabetes.

There are also concerns about the growing number of children being infected with the Delta variant. A specialist school, Giant Steps at Gladesville which caters for autistic children, has seven cases among students, and families have been ordered to isolate.

“Certainly we are concerned about the number of younger people affected during this Delta outbreak, we look very closely at the infection rates in children.

Clearly, we are seeing more children affected by Covid this year compared to what we saw last year, and certainly we are discussing those issues with the Department of Education and other industries that look after children as to what are the right measures and settings,” the acting chief health officer, Dr Marianne Gale, said.

Across NSW, 128,000 tests were conducted on Thursday.

The premier said Sunday has been dubbed tradies day, to enable tradesmen in the hotspot areas to be vaccinated – a condition of their returning to work.

There is also a program to get 100,000 essential workers between the ages of 18-39 vaccinated next week.

Two people lost their lives overnight because of Covid, one woman in her 40s in south-western Sydney, who died at home and was not vaccinated. The case has been referred to the coroner.

The other death was a man in his late 90s who was in palliative care.

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