Towns hit with Covid alert just days after vaccines diverted to Sydney

·3-min read

Fragments of Covid-19 have been detected in the Hunter region of NSW, just days after Pfizer vaccine doses were diverted away from regional areas to vaccinate year 12 students in Sydney.

The controversial decision was met with intense backlash as thousands of vaccine appointments were cancelled at vaccine hubs across the state, including the centre at Belmont, which services the Hunter.

A supplied image obtained on Monday, July 19, 2021, shows inside the newly opened mass vaccination centre in Belmont, Lake Macquarie. The mass vaccination centre in Belmont, Lake Macquarie. Source: AAP
Appointments at the Belmont mass vaccination centre at Lake Macquarie have been postponed after supply was diverted to Sydney. Source: AAP

There have been no recent local cases in the Hunter but Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant she was "very concerned" by the "very high viral load" detected in the Hunter's sewerage.

The Belmont, Burwood and Shortland plants cover more than 400,000 people across Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and southern Port Stephens.

Director of Health Protection at Hunter-New England Health, Dr David Durrheim, said authorities hold grave concerns that a number of people living in the Hunter community or who had recently visited could be infected with Covid-19.

“Now is the time when we have to hunt the virus down; we have to flush it out,” Dr Durrheim said.

“The only way we can do that is if anyone who has a sore throat, a runny nose, shortness of breath, chest pain, a fever, don’t hesitate, immediately go and get tested.”

Anger over Pfizer jabs for Sydney

The decision to redirect Pfizer doses to Sydney's students was met with intense backlash from regional NSW.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a week ago that Pfizer doses will be offered to HSC students across eight Sydney Local Government Areas of concern, as Sydney grapples to contain the growing outbreak.

But the doses will be pulled from rural and regional areas, due to limited supply.

A doctor prepares to administer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Source: Getty Images
Some Sydney students in their last year of high school will be given priority for the Pfizer vaccine. Source: Getty Images

Member for Swansea Yasmin Catley, who represents part of the Hunter, said the move has “caused anxiety within the community”.

She is among a group of state Labor MPs who wrote to the Premier demanding the decision to cancel Pfizer appointments be overturned.

“Each day the Premier urges the community to get vaccinated and the community is trying only to have their appointments cancelled. This is unfair and wrong,” she posted to Facebook.

“We are part of the Sydney lockdown, we should be a priority area for Pfizer. Step up Premier and right this wrong.”

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Ms Catley has also written to Hunter New England Health seeking answers as to how many doses have been diverted and how much supply remains.

“The community deserves transparency on how much vaccine has been redirected to Sydney and if appointments that were cancelled in error will now be delayed,” she said.

Her Facebook page has since been flooded with angry comments. 

"We are ok to be part of Greater Sydney when they want!!! now we are all of a sudden regional!!! What happens when the current cases blow out here! We are entitled to have our vaccine! Absolute shambles! Disgrace," commented one person. 

Another said: "I have to ask, why are we being treated like 2nd class citizens?"

"So frustrating for so many of us who have had our appointments cancelled,"another Facebook user posted. 

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