Indigenous leaders in the far western New South Wales town of Wilcannia have pleaded for more government support to cope with a growing local Covid outbreak, amid fears that overcrowded housing and a lack of basic supplies have heightened the risk to vulnerable community members.
There were 12 new Covid cases reported by the NSW government in Wilcannia on Saturday.
Locals say that people are being ordered into home isolation in circumstances where they live with multiple families – up to 10 people – and alongside Covid-positive cases.
Monica Kerwin, a Barkandji woman, made an emotional plea for help in a video posted on Facebook on Friday afternoon. Guardian Australia has spoken with other community members who expressed similar concerns.
“We have a really terrible situation here,” Kerwin said. “These people are going through hell.
“These families [in lockdown] are not being supported, there is nothing in place for them. We’ve got families living on top of families, there’s no place to isolate these families in overcrowding situations.
“Our people are being told to go home and lock themselves in, but we’ve got white people driving around. We’ve been complying through all these Covid laws, it’s not Wilcannia’s fault that we got Covid.
“Anyone out there, we need help here.”
Volunteers, the local council and community groups arranged care packages of food and essential items to be dropped at Wilcannia homes on Saturday.
Barkandji woman Monica Kerwin made an emotional plea for additional help for Wilcannia after the Covid outbreak. Photograph: Facebook
Locals have also expressed anger about the way NSW authorities on Saturday compared a funeral in Wilcannia – believed to be the source of the outbreak – and a recent large party in the Sydney suburb of Maroubra.
“Can I express my very strong disappointment … a result of a number of people who are deliberately, deliberately not complying with what they have been asked to do,” the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said.
“In the case of the funeral that occurred in western New South Wales, many of those people are now returned to the far-flung parts of our state, and I am already hearing from our health system that there are cases that are positive in various communities, and those will probably grow in the next few days.”
It is understood the funeral took place on 13 August, when Wilcannia was not under lockdown restrictions.
The Western NSW Local Health District has been contacted for comment.
On Monday, local health authorities told Guardian Australia the “vast majority” of Covid cases in western NSW were among Aboriginal people, and 40% are in largely unvaccinated Aboriginal children aged between 10 and 19 years old.
Only about a third of Wilcannia’s population has had their first dose of a Covid vaccine. About 16% are fully vaccinated.
Human Rights Watch has called on the federal and New South Wales governments to prioritise the rollout of vaccines to Indigenous populations.
“The federal government and NSW authorities left First Nations people dangerously exposed to Covid-19 with limited access to vaccines,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill.
“Australia’s federal, state, and territory governments should not repeat the failings in NSW and should urgently improve vaccine access and health care for Indigenous communities.”