Coronavirus (COVID-19) is slowly spreading across the globe, causing panic as the pandemic begins to present itself in Australia.
According to the Australian Government Department of Health, as of Friday morning Australia had 709 confirmed cases:
- ACT – 4
- NSW – 307
- NT – 0
- Queensland – 144
- SA – 42
- Tasmania – 10
- WA – 52.
With Western Australia currently hosting 52 confirmed cases, there is an increased panic within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of the risk of the virus entering remote and vulnerable communities.
Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) is working overtime to understand the nature of COVID-19 and how to best protect remote communities within the Kimberley.
KAMS Deputy CEO, Rob McPhee, spoke to NIT about the organisation’s moves to prevent coronavirus in the region.
“For the past two weeks [KAMS] has rapidly stepped up our preparations and our response to the potential impact of the coronavirus on the Kimberley. For us, our primary concern is with the welfare and safety of our patients and staff,” McPhee said.
KAMS is working with Western Australia Health and stakeholders to understand broad impacts of coronavirus and its effects on the Kimberley’s Aboriginal community.
“We have a population that has high rates of illness, chronic disease and comorbidity.
“We know from other countries that the coronavirus has a larger impact on people who are already unwell or the elderly so, for us having a large part of our population who are unwell, we are concerned that they are a vulnerable part of the community.
“In remote places … there are limited health services and the kind of support that you need to treat and help someone recover from the virus.
“Because of the make-up and structure of our communities, one positive transmission is likely to indicate that it has already spread to others. We live in close proximity to each other, often in overcrowded houses, meaning we will have to act very quickly to isolate people to contain and stop the spread to others.”
“Isolation will be extremely hard to achieve in remote communities, so we need support from government to make alternative arrangements.”
KAMS has directed their focus to preventative processes.
“[We are] trying to get as much education and awareness out into the broader community around how they can take their own precautions in terms of hand hygiene, if they have a cough or a sneeze, how to handle that in a way that keeps themselves and the family surrounding them safe.”
The organisation has also restricted the travel of staff members.
“We have currently put in place a travel-ban for our staff to travel for work purposes anywhere outside the Kimberley. We have also restricted all non-essential clinical staff travelling to remote communities.
“We will continue to allow our clinical staff access to remote communities, but we will be putting in special measures to ensure they are safe and not transmitting anything into communities.”
There are also processes being put in place for containment if the region has a confirmed case.
“We are ready to go if something does occur, we are working with WA Health system and other Aboriginal Medical Services across the Kimberley, so we are doing all of this in a really joined up and coordinated way as well.”
“It is our ultimate goal that we avoid the transmission of coronavirus into our communities. That is really the best-case scenario.”
KAMS hopes to see and encourages communities and other agencies to enforce their own measures to minimise coronavirus risk.
Whilst a vaccine for coronavirus is still being developed, KAMS is dedicated to ensuring the flu vaccine is administered in the meantime.
“Our focus on vaccinations will be primarily around the flu vaccine, we are coming into flu season. What we don’t want is people already sick with the flu, who could then potentially contract the coronavirus, which could then make it even worse.
“A healthier community will be able to respond much better to an outbreak of coronavirus in the Kimberley. Once a vaccine has been developed [for coronavirus] we will be looking to roll that out as far and wide and as quickly as possible.”
KAMS encourages those who are presenting flu-like symptoms, have recently travelled overseas or have been in contact with someone who is known to have the virus, to contact the KAMS clinic via phone.
“Whilst there is a lot of hype and panic around the virus, I think in situations like this we have to stay as level-headed and aware as possible as to what is going on.”
“We also need to recognise, looking at China and Italy and other nations battling the virus at the moment, it is not business as usual.”
“We need to make sure we are taking all the precautions; we are looking to reliable sources of information and not engaging in social media as a means to get factual information.
“[Looking at the countries] where they’ve had to impose lockdowns and restrictions of movements, that is absolutely necessary, and we have seen that take place in Australia over the last few days.
“We will see those restrictions increase and tighten up over the coming days and weeks. I think that is appropriate, at a local level I think people should be putting measures in place immediately to limit the risk of transmission.”
For more information on KAMS and their COVID-19 response, visit: https://kams.org.au.
For more information and regular updates on COVID-19, visit: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert.
By Rachael Knowles