COVID-19 restrictions should only be lifted when it is safe to do so for Aboriginal communities

26 November 2021

The NSW Government has proposed a blanket lifting of COVID-19 restrictions when the proportion of fully vaccinated people rate reaches 70% of the adult population. If implemented, this would have devastating effects on Aboriginal populations. At the present time, vaccination rates in Aboriginal communities remain low. Once restrictions are lifted, unvaccinated people will be at high risk of infection. The risks of serious illness and death among Aboriginal people from a variety of medical conditions are significantly greater than for the wider population. This is also the case with COVID-19 in First Nations populations around the world. The vulnerability of Aboriginal people is an enduring consequence of colonialism and is exacerbated by the fact that many live in overcrowded and poorly maintained houses in communities with under-resourced health services. A current workforce crisis and the demographic structure of the population have further hindered the effectiveness of vaccination programmes. Aboriginal organisations have called on state and federal governments to delay any substantial easing of restrictions until full vaccination rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations aged 16_years and older reach 90-95%. They have also called for additional support in the form of supply of vaccines, enhancement of workforce capacity and appropriate incentives to address hesitancy. Australia remains burdened by the legacy of centuries of harm and damage to its First Nations people. Urgent steps must be taken to avoid a renewed assault on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.