Five Australian Defence Force vaccination teams will be dispatched across western New South Wales in the coming days to help regional communities protect themselves from Sydney’s spreading COVID-19 outbreak.
The state on Wednesday recorded 633 new local COVID-19 cases and three deaths.
The ADF teams of up to 14 members will include medics, nurses, and logisticians, and will be based in Dubbo, according to federal health minister Greg Hunt.
“They’ll support vaccination, but where swabbing or other activities are required they’re highly mobile, highly flexible and highly trained,” Hunt told a press conference on Tuesday.
The assistance has been announced after NSW reported 452 local COVID-19 cases and one death on Tuesday. This included 18 new cases in Western NSW — bringing the total number of cases in the region to 116. One positive case was also reported in Broken Hill following the reporting period.
Federal chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the developing situation in regional NSW was ‘very concerning’.
Hunt noted that the Royal Flying Doctor Service would provide additional services and vaccine support to small communities. Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) teams would also be deployed during the week to provide the west with clinical support.
“If there are any hospitals, any areas where the health services are in some way shape or form impaired by furloughed workers or stressed, they’re ready to step up,” he said.
The federal government has also announced that Australia’s daily vaccination record has been broken this week, with almost 280,000 COVID-19 jabs administered on Monday.
That equates to nearly 200 doses per minute, Prime Minister Scott Morrison noted. He said that, as of this week, half of Australians would have received their first jab.
“Right now around the country, every state and territory has gone above 25% double dose, except Western Australia, and we look forward to them achieving that in the time ahead,” Morrison said.
Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt told the conference he was ‘really pleased’ that around 169,000 of Indigenous Australians — 30% — have received their first dose, while a further 15% have been fully vaccinated.
However, Labor MPs Linda Burney and Mark Butler have voiced concern over ‘critically low levels of vaccination’ of First Nations communities in the two states with the largest First Nations populations, NSW and Queensland. According to federal government data, just 8% of First Nations populations in those states have been fully vaccinated.
“This represents a complete failure by the Morrison government to roll out the vaccine in First Nations communities, a lack of preparedness for transmission in communities and an absence of any coordination with community health providers,” they said.
“This data shows that the prime minister’s rhetoric about First Nations people being a priority in the vaccine rollout is completely empty. First Nations, as part of phase 1B of the rollout, were supposed to be fully vaccinated by winter.
“The Morrison government severely underestimates the community engagement and coordination required to roll out vaccinations in First Nations communities.”
In other parts of the country, Victoria has recorded 24 local COVID-19 cases on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
The ACT reported 17 new cases on Tuesday, including the daughter of Labor senator Katy Gallagher, and 22 cases on Wednesday.
The Northern Territory recorded no new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday or Wednesday, after entering a snap lockdown earlier in the week.
New Zealand has also entered a three-day snap lockdown, after recording its first local case since February. The country now has seven positive cases, which have been linked to the NSW outbreak.
Queensland recorded one local case on Tuesday.