Below is some important information related to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
It is critical at a time like this that we all do our best to ensure people are given the right information about what is going on, and we each do our bit to correct the misinformation circling around. So, please share this with your networks and other community members.
Amid the uncertainty and concerns being raised relating to the unfolding COVID-19 situation, a group of proactive Pilbara Aboriginal leaders have helped to establish an emergency response working group: RECOV19ER.
This group involves a large number of local Aboriginal organisations, including several Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs), as well a number of government agencies and other service providers, meeting daily via teleconference to ensure accurate and current information is being shared, and that a coordinated approach is being undertaken in response to community needs. Current priorities of the working group are focussed on communicating correct, clear and concise messaging to the Pilbara Aboriginal community, especially those living in remote communities, and securing/confirming stores of essential supplies, in particular food security and access to health/medical/hygiene provisions.
As a further consequence of this work, a website was launched over the weekend – www.recov19er.com.au. It is intended as a resource for not only the Pilbara community, but others in WA being affected by the ongoing and frequent changes impacting regional and remote areas. Useful information, including government media releases and other community resources, will be updated on the website as it is released and/or provided to the working group.
Please check this website out as often as you can to access up-to-date information coming out.
OTHER RELIABLE SOURCES
The WA Department of Health have recently released some useful information sheets: https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Coronavirus/Coronavirus-information-for-Aboriginal-people.
If you are still inclined to seek out information from social media sources, please connect with your local AMSs and other trusted platforms. For example:
The Australian Government has also released an official ‘app’ with the information you need to know about #Coronavirus. Search “Coronavirus Australia” in the Apple App Store and on Google Play. You can also find the latest official Coronavirus news and information on the new ‘WhatsApp “chatbot”’. Click to open the WhatsApp channel, or download WhatsApp on iOS or Android.
There has been a lot of confusion about what travel restrictions are in effect at the moment. This is understandable as these are progressively changing in response to trying to best protect people and reduce the spread of the virus, particularly trying to stop it getting into regional and remote communities which could have devastating impacts.
At the moment, under Federal legislation, access has been restricted into the following regions:
Kimberley (comprising all four local government areas)
Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku
Parts of the Shire of East Pilbara that encompass the communities of Jigalong, Martu homeland communities and Kiwirrkurra.
Under these arrangements, any person who is outside a designated region can only enter that region if they:
are providing essential services or supplies; or
have been quarantined from the general public for the previous 14 days.
While other special exemptions may be considered, please be advised a jail term of up to five years could apply to anyone who breaches these restrictions.
You can view the map of these designated regions here: https://www.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-03/Western%20Australia%20-%20Designated%20Biosecurity%20Area%20FINAL%20260320.pdf
Also, as of today, there are some additional restrictions being put into place by the State Government that may impact you. From midnight tonight (12am Wednesday, April 1), restrictions will be placed on travel within the entire State of Western Australia. People will not be permitted to leave their regional boundary, and WA Police have the power to enforce these restrictions if necessary, and fines of up to $50,000 can be issued. Exemptions will apply in circumstances including employment purposes; medical or veterinary reasons; delivery of essential services including health or emergency services; people living across regional boundaries, who may not have access to groceries or supplies immediately within their region; transport of goods; compassionate grounds; a family member has primary care responsibilities; for school, TAFE or tertiary study reasons; to escape domestic violence or due to an emergency.
These State Government changes are in addition to the “Directions” already in place for Aboriginal remote communities. Under the current Directions, a person can only enter or remain on the land or waters of a community if they are returning to where they normally reside or work, for family and cultural purposes, to provide or access essential or human services or supplies, in an emergency, or if authorised by the Police Commissioner or an authorised officer. Again, these restrictions are enforceable, and fines of up to $50,000 can apply to those who breach them.
The updated Directions are available at: https://www.wa.gov.au/government/publications/remote-aboriginal-communities-directions
The State Government and other local organisations are also in the process of developing individual “pandemic plans” with regional and remote communities. These plans will assist in ensuring communities determine who is/is not permitted access, what service providers are available to meet their needs, their levels of supplies available (and what they are short on), etc.
OTHER ADVICE FROM GOVERNMENT
It is strongly advised, people aged over 70, aged over 60 with pre-existing health/medical conditions, or Indigenous people aged over 50 should stay home wherever possible for their own protection.
The testing criteria for COVID-19 has been extended to include more vulnerable groups of people in high-risk settings. While priority testing is still focused on healthcare staff on the frontline, other groups deemed as priority now also include, among others, those living in rural and remote Aboriginal communities. If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms – fever, cough or shortness of breath, sore throat, tiredness – please contact your local clinic or hospital and they will tell you what to do.
For any other health concerns, you can try to connect with “Telehealth”, an initiative from WA Country Health Services, which enables you to have an appointment with a medical specialist, allied health professional or nurse by videoconference. A Telehealth appointment is free for public patients. To find out more about this service, you can view this helpful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sg1uYUgo5vM, call 9174 1655, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (For other regional contacts, see: http://www.wacountry.health.wa.gov.au/index.php?id=2659).
COVID-19 is very serious and lots of different agencies and organisations are doing their best to protect the community. Unfortunately, some people are still not following the rules being put in place to help keep us all safe and well. As a result, today the State Government is introducing the Emergency Management Amendment (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020 that will enable authorities to compel someone who is directed to self-isolate and fails to comply to wear an electronic device or direct that an electronic device be installed at a person's residence. Anyone who fails to comply, removes or interferes with the electronic device without a reasonable excuse, faces a penalty of a $12,000 fine or twelve months' imprisonment. The urgent legislation will also introduce $1,000 on-the-spot fines for individuals and $5,000 fines for businesses who disobey self-isolation and gathering directives.
Further, urgent amendments to the Criminal Code specific to the COVID-19 pandemic will also be introduced into State Parliament today. These amendments introduce tough penalties for individuals who assault or threaten frontline workers, such as doctors and nurses, police officers, paramedics, fire and emergency service workers, and prison officers, in the context of COVID-19. Individuals could face up to ten years' imprisonment if found guilty of assaulting a frontline worker in circumstances where they know they have COVID-19 or create a belief, suspicion or fear that they have COVID-19. While, threats to injure, endanger or harm a frontline worker by exposing them to COVID-19 will attract a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment under the new laws.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
STAY HOME! As much as you can, please try to stay home and avoid contact with other people. This is what people are calling “self-isolating”. While this may be very difficult, it is the best preventative measure people can take to keep themselves and others safe.
Where/when you cannot stay home, please keep all contact at a distance (it is recommended you maintain about six-feet between yourself and other people); so please no hugs, handshakes, high fives or anything like that.
If you find yourself needing to travel, contact your local police, Department of Communities office, or PAV’s secretariat (0418 115 908), to confirm what current access restrictions are in effect.
If you are not feeling well (with the abovementioned symptoms), contact either the Department of Health’s “Coronavirus Hotline” on 1800 020 080, or consult your closest hospital/clinic, to get advice.
Simple things like washing your hands with soap frequently, coughing/sneezing into your elbow, or a tissue (and throwing it away), not sharing drinks, cigarettes, or anything else like that, will also help protect you from getting the virus.
Stay connected via phone calls and video chats; check in with your family and friends as often as you can to see how they are doing.