Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services has raised the alarm about alleged cases of tourists attempting to get COVID-19 vaccines intended for high risk Aboriginal people.
Under the WA Government’s Remote Aboriginal Communities Directions, only those who live, work or provide essential services in a closed remote Aboriginal community are permitted to enter.
Anyone who enters a closed community without a valid reason can be hit with fines of up to $50,000 and of the 274 WA Aboriginal communities with a listed status, 245 are closed to travellers.
KAMS medical director Dr Lorraine Anderson said there have been cases of complete disregard for signage warning travellers that communities are closed.
“All of the closed communities have got signs out, they’ve got barrels out, the roads are closed; [tourists] are just driving around,” she said.
Several tourists have visited vaccination clinics in communities and asked to be administered doses of the vaccine, Dr Anderson told The West Australian.
The incidents have angered medical staff and Indigenous communities who are working tirelessly to vaccinate their people.
“Sitting in the waiting room of one of our clinics while we’ve got the most vulnerable population in the country there and we’ve got tourists disregarding the law and putting those people at risk; I don’t know what they don’t understand about this,” she said.
Rollout of the Pfizer vaccine into remote communities has seen just 310 doses administered and immunisations made available at every remote clinic within 10 days.
Dr Anderson said it was important the rollout continues.
“We’ve got a massive unvaccinated population and a massive pandemic bearing down on us so there is absolute urgency that people get vaccinated.”
WA Premier Mark McGowan has slammed cases of tourists entering remote communities closed to visitors, calling the travellers “disrespectful”.
“This is completely unacceptable, not only for the health of local Aboriginal people, but it’s disrespectful to those communities,” he said.
“No one wants a COVID outbreak in a remote Aboriginal community. Tourists need to follow the rules like everyone else.”
The Premier told reporters the tourists are endangering lives in the communities.
“Essentially, what we’ve given is a blanket ruling, that you shouldn’t go into remote Aboriginal communities unless that remote Aboriginal community has made an informed decision to allow you to go in,” he said.
“There’s often signage saying don’t come in; there’s rules around people not being permitted to come in, and some people are breaching that rule.”
Mr McGowan said he wants to ensure WA’s Aboriginal population is protected as Aboriginal people are “far more susceptible to viruses”.
“[Tourists are] endangering the lives of people in those communities, and they’re breaking the law and they shouldn’t do it.”
By Sarah Smit