Covid Australia: Outbreak in Indigenous Northern Territory communities spark toughest lockdown


Dozens of Indigenous Australians are being taken from their towns by the army and driven to quarantine facilities as a Covid outbreak in a remote area threatens to spiral out of control, with hundreds now living in the world’s toughest lockdown.

Binjari and Rockhole communities in the Northern Territory are experiencing spikes in Covid cases due to overcrowded living situations and low vaccination rates.

There are now 51 cases in the area, in an outbreak that is the first of its kind in an Indigenous community, leading to the harshest lockdown ever seen in Australia – and currently the world – with the townspeople banned from even shopping for essentials or taking a walk. 

Authorities have also began moving positive cases and close contacts to the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin to stop the spread of the virus within the at-risk communities.

An Aboriginal elder from Larrakia country named Julie Mills posted an impassioned video to Facebook saying she was unable to get in contact with people from the area and accused the government of taking people against their will.

However, an Indigenous man named Luke Ellis, who is currently quarantining at the facility, said everyone came willingly and were being treated well – blasting any comparisons to the experiences of the Stolen Generation.

Binjari and Rockhole communities in the Northern Territory are experiencing spikes in Covid cases due to overcrowded living situations and low vaccination rates (pictured, a roadblock outside Katherine on Tuesday)

Authorities have began moving positive cases and close contacts to the nearby Howard Springs quarantine facility (pictured) to stop the spread of the virus within the at-risk communities

Authorities have began moving positive cases and close contacts to the nearby Howard Springs quarantine facility (pictured) to stop the spread of the virus within the at-risk communities

‘My grandmother was stolen generation. To compare what I’m going through in this camp to what she and her generation went through us disgusting,’ he tweeted on Wednesday morning. 

‘I’m in a nice room with my own aircon. I’m sitting back watching Netflix on free WiFi. I had barra with garlic butter and broccolini for dinner. 

‘I’m in constant contact with loved ones. Any comparison to stolen generation is spitting on what those poor souls went through in those days.’

There have been 38 people transported from the at-risk Indigenous communities to Howard Springs so far.

The remaining residents who choose to stay in the remote towns are under the world’s harshest lockdowns, with people unable to leave their homes even for the normal five reasons – exercise, shopping, healthcare, work or education. 

Instead people can ‘only leave for medical treatment, or if required by law’, with Mr Gunner confirming the cases that have been moved to Howard Springs.

There are hundreds of people currently quarantining in the Darwin facility (pictured), including people returning from overseas as well as at-risk Indigenous Australians

There are hundreds of people currently quarantining in the Darwin facility (pictured), including people returning from overseas as well as at-risk Indigenous Australians

Luke Ellis who is currently quarantining in the major centre, said everyone came willingly and were being treated well

Mr Ellis, who is fully vaccinated, had been visiting the communities trying to educate and encourage people to seek the vaccine but contracted Covid while visiting the towns

Mr Ellis, who is fully vaccinated, had been visiting the communities trying to educate and encourage people to seek the vaccine but contracted Covid while visiting the towns (pictured, the Howard Springs centre where he is in quarantine)

Mr Ellis, who is fully vaccinated, had been visiting the communities trying to educate and encourage people to seek the vaccine (pictured, Covid testing in Katherine on Tuesday)

Mr Ellis, who is fully vaccinated, had been visiting the communities trying to educate and encourage people to seek the vaccine (pictured, Covid testing in Katherine on Tuesday)

‘It’s highly likely that more residents will be transferred to Howard Springs today, either as positive cases or close contacts,’ he said Wednesday.

‘We have already identified 38 close contacts from Binjari but that number will go up. Those 38 are being transferred now.’ 

The measures are set to remain in place for at least the next 14 days.

So far there have been 51 positive cases of Covid within the current NT outbreak, with hundreds of close contacts coming largely from the remote Indigenous communities of Katherine, Binjari and Robinson River.

Four people are currently in hospital, all of whom are unvaccinated.

Mr Ellis, who is fully vaccinated, had been visiting the communities trying to educate and encourage people to seek the vaccine – but contracted Covid while visiting the towns.

She slammed the idea of comparing people in quarantine facilities to the Stolen Generation

She slammed the idea of comparing people in quarantine facilities to the Stolen Generation

Mr Ellis said they were being treated well with free WiFi and Netflix at the Howard Springs facility

Mr Ellis said they were being treated well with free WiFi and Netflix at the Howard Springs facility

He said the jab was never forced upon anyone and blamed misinformation for the distrust in the areas.

‘People have been hesitant because of misinformation. But in all my time doing vaccines in the community, not a single person was “forced” to have it,’ he said.

‘We respected people’s wishes to decline even though we knew that this could potentially bring disaster.’

He said accelerated cases in the towns, which come largely from over-crowded and poorly ventilated homes, have ‘changed people’s perception of the vaccine’.

‘The people who declined in the past often want the vaccine once they discover Covid is in their community,’ he said.

‘We have had an increase in vax rates amongst all people in the community during past lockdowns.’

Ms Mills, an elder from the Larrakia people who are the traditional owners of Darwin, instead claims the army are taking people from Binjari and Rockhole ‘against their will’.

Julie Mills, an elder from the Larrakia people who are the traditional owners of Darwin, instead claims the army are taking people from Binjari and Rockhole 'against their will'

Julie Mills, an elder from the Larrakia people who are the traditional owners of Darwin, instead claims the army are taking people from Binjari and Rockhole ‘against their will’

There have been 51 positive cases of Covid within the current NT outbreak, with hundreds of close contacts coming largely from the remote Indigenous communities of Katherine, Binjari (pictured) and Robinson River

There have been 51 positive cases of Covid within the current NT outbreak, with hundreds of close contacts coming largely from the remote Indigenous communities of Katherine, Binjari (pictured) and Robinson River

Indigenous residents from remote Aboriginal communities are being taken from their towns to the Howard Springs quarantine centre (pictured, health officials in Katherine)

Indigenous residents from remote Aboriginal communities are being taken from their towns to the Howard Springs quarantine centre (pictured, health officials in Katherine)

In an emotional plea on Facebook, she said she’d been unable to speak to people from the area and was scared for their safety.

‘We’re hearing nothing but bullsh*t from Michael Gunner and the government. We’re all sitting around here scratching our head and wondering what’s going on,’ she said.

‘I’m worried about my people, I want to hear from them.’

She then ripped into the Chief Minister Mr Gunner, calling him a ‘lying, deceiving dog’ and accused him of hiding from the issue.

‘Michael Gunner, you coward, where are you?’ she said.

‘I hear stories about people being knocked down in the street by the army. Our indigenous brothers and sisters are traumatised.

‘We are worried, we are petrified. We want answers, we want this to stop.’

Mr Ellis however said that was simply not the case, and that the vast majority of people in the facility weren’t indigenous and that everyone had come willingly. 

Residents living in Binjari and Rockhole have posted images of the ADF arriving to deliver 'fresh food', saying 'we are good' with the government rules

Residents living in Binjari and Rockhole have posted images of the ADF arriving to deliver ‘fresh food’, saying ‘we are good’ with the government rules

‘If there were soldiers with guns holding people down and forcing jabs we would have seen pics or vids of it now,’ he wrote to Twitter.

‘There’s millions of vids of heaps of stuff that happen in Indigenous communities, both the good and bad. To think no one would film all these soldiers and guns holding down people is pure fantasy.

‘Comparing it to genocide and sh*t is disgusting. There’s thousands of Indigenous people in Katherine alone. Only 200 odd are in Howard Springs. If it’s a “genocide” then it’s a pretty sh*t planned one.’

Another Indigenous resident of the remote communities denied they were being poorly treated and said the ADF were doing 'an excellent job'

 Another Indigenous resident of the remote communities denied they were being poorly treated and said the ADF were doing ‘an excellent job’

A media release from the Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service said the lies being spread about forceful takings are 'hurting the very people they claim to care about'

A media release from the Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service said the lies being spread about forceful takings are ‘hurting the very people they claim to care about’

Lockdown rules for Binjani and Rockhole 

Can only leave your house for:

Medical assistance

If required by law  

 

Cannot leave the house for:

Work

Education

Physical activity

Food  

Residents living in Binjari and Rockhole have posted images of the ADF arriving to deliver ‘fresh food’, saying ‘we are good’ with the government rules.

‘We are being looked after, we had plenty of food and a powercard dropped off which we didn’t have to pay for,’ one resident posted to Facebook.

‘I have friends who are working alongside the army who are doing an excellent job and no one is forced against their own will.’

A media release from the Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service on behalf of the traditional owners of the Binjari and Rockhole communities said ‘lies’ being spread about forceful takings are ‘hurting the very people they claim to care about’.

‘People are very hurt by the untrue comments being made in the media and social media about their situation. Support personnel and organisations are providing support to Binjari and Rockhole,’ the group said.

‘We are in lockdown because we’re in the biggest fight of our lives. We’re trying to keep safe.

‘People on social media saying that our people are being mistreated need to realise their comments are hurting the very people they claim to care about.’ 

Australia has managed to keep Covid outbreaks out of Indigenous communities throughout most of the pandemic.

There are fears that the communities would be extra vulnerable to the virus due to the prevalence of pre-existing health conditions and sometimes cramped living conditions. 

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