Aboriginal community leaders in Redfern say residents are struggling to find clear information about local Covid-19 cases, after health authorities announced that they are concerned about a growing outbreak in the area.
New South Wales deputy chief health officer Dr Marianna Gale told reporters on Wednesday that authorities were concerned about rising case numbers in Redfern, Glebe, Waterloo, and Marrickville, and encouraged residents in those areas to come forward for vaccination.
Data from NSW Health shows that 50 cases have been reported in Redfern in the week to 8 September, 30 in Glebe, 74 in Waterloo, and 28 in Marrickville.
But the NSW Health website does not list any Covid-19 exposure sites in Redfern. The department stopped publishing “casual contact venues” for metropolitan Sydney last month, unable to keep up with rising daily case numbers.
Due to this, Aboriginal community leaders say they don’t know where locals are catching Covid-19.
Ashlee Donohue, CEO of the Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Women’s Centre based in Redfern, said that information about local cases and exposure sites was only being shared anecdotally through the community and on social media.
“It’s gossip because there is nothing coming from the top to say what is happening. I was notified about cases in the area by a tweet from an NITV presenter saying that the government is concerned about the increase in cases,” Donohue said.
“If they are so concerned why aren’t they doing something about it?”
The Aboriginal Medical Service announced on Facebook last Wednesday 1 September that its Redfern clinic was forced to close for deep cleaning after a positive case attended.
Redfern Aboriginal community leader, Shane Phillips, said that there are some people in the Koori community who have tested positive for Covid-19 “and doing really well, but we have a handful of elders who aren’t doing well”.
Phillips, the CEO of the Tribal Warrior Association, said two of his staff had tested positive, forcing the organisation to shut down. He said they weren’t sure where they contracted the virus.
Phillips said that Koori community leaders and organisations have been mobilising to cut through misinformation and ensure locals were isolating, getting tested, and getting vaccinated.
“We are getting doctors and healthcare workers who we know, and we are getting them to do [Microsoft] teams or Zoom calls with the community. And people are asking all the questions they have … and it has helped us massively,” he said.
“But we didn’t have that until we found it ourselves. We are not being informed properly and not receiving good messaging. And people have been infected waiting for it.”
Phillips criticised the government’s mixed messaging over stay-at-home-orders, and the politicisation of lockdowns.
“The government’s messaging is so mixed. People are losing hope with that message. And on social media, you see extremes. The little people are not getting the simple clinical information they need to make decisions [about isolating or getting the vaccine],” he said.
“We are mobilising the people that have that knowledge to help us get that message across … We don’t trust the government to get us the information when it is really needed.”
Efforts are also being made to ramp up Covid-19 vaccinations in these areas of concern.
Deputy chief health officer Dr Marianne Gale said on Wednesday that the Sydney local health district had “set up special Pfizer clinics where bookings can be made or walk-in appointments for residents of those areas”.
These include new clinics at the Peter Forsyth auditorium in Glebe, the PCYC in Marrickville, and the Wests leagues club in Ashfield.
In Redfern, the Aboriginal Medical Services Cooperative also partnered with the Sydney Local Health district to host a vaccination hub last weekend.
Vaccination rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are low across the state. Data obtained by Guardian Australia in August found that only 6.19% of Sydney’s Indigenous population were fully vaccinated.
Donohue said state health authorities should be doing more to provide pop up vaccination clinics and testing centres in Redfern given the spike in local cases.
“A lot of people here don’t have cars. It’s about taking into account people’s needs in the area and how you are going to best serve and meet those needs,” she said.
“We aren’t asking for the army to come in. We are just asking for the same support as anywhere else.”
“Safety precautions need to be put in place immediately. Otherwise this will spread like wildfire.”