Fear over WA vax rates, NT border tightens

·3-min read

A coronavirus outbreak in the Northern Territory has renewed concerns about the low vaccine take-up in regional Western Australia and prompted fresh border controls.

Nine Indigenous people have tested positive in the territory's latest outbreak after the virus was carried into a remote community.

WA authorities have responded by declaring the NT a low-risk jurisdiction under changes coming into effect from 4pm local time on Tuesday.

All travellers must be fully vaccinated and are required to complete 14 days self-quarantine and get tested within 48 hours of arrival.

The quarantine requirement also applies to anyone who has arrived in WA since November 10 after attending designated exposure sites in the NT.

WA has so far avoided any outbreaks in its remote communities, most of which have remained closed to tourists for more than 18 months.

But the low rate of vaccination in northern WA is a significant concern as the state eyes a late-January or early February reopening of its borders.

In the vast Pilbara region, just one in five Indigenous people are fully vaccinated.

The federal government is funding a new campaign aimed at increasing the take-up in remote parts of WA, beginning with the Pilbara.

Television personality and Yamatji man Ernie Dingo will travel to communities and meet local Aboriginal people in a bid to address concerns about the vaccine.

"I'll be having a cuppa and a yarn with countrymen over brekky barbecues, listening to their concerns and encouraging them to be ready for the jab when the health teams come through the towns again," Mr Dingo said on Tuesday.

"It's about knowledge, about making our communities feel ready for the vaccine when it comes around."

Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said the take-up in the Pilbara was far too low, warning remote communities would be highly vulnerable in the event of an outbreak.

"It's vital we use every tool at our disposal in the lead up to WA opening its borders - that's why I've asked Ernie to take Vax the Outback to the Pilbara to provide that extra face-to-face support," Mr Wyatt said in a statement.

The vaccine rollout in remote parts of Australia had been hampered by a lack of supply, but this is no longer thought to be an issue.

Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said the Morrison government should have given more attention to vulnerable communities.

"This is a cohort that the federal government identified early this year as a priority group, particularly older members of Indigenous communities were supposed to be fully vaccinated before winter even began," he told reporters in Perth.

"And still, those vaccination rates are not where they should be."

WA has not ruled out keeping remote parts of the country closed to travellers even once the interstate borders are open, should regional vaccine rates not improve.

About 70 per cent of West Australians aged 12 and above are fully vaccinated but the borders will remain closed until that rate reaches 90 per cent.

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