COVID hits Mildura Indigenous community as services prepare for ‘very concerning’ challenge

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A COVID-19 outbreak in the border city of Mildura has spread to the local Indigenous community as health services step up efforts to bring the region’s vaccination rate to the Victorian average.

Health Department deputy secretary Kate Matson confirmed 20 of the state’s 1935 new cases on Saturday were in Mildura, which entered the first day of a week-long lockdown.

Mildura has entered a snap lockdown after case numbers went from one to 37 in a week.Credit:

Five deaths were recorded and 578 cases were in hospital with COVID-19 on Saturday, taking Victoria close to the milestone of 600 cases in hospital – the equivalent of one large Melbourne hospital.

At 600 hospitalisations, the state’s road map out of lockdown suggests changes to the healthcare system may be required, such as a further pause on non-urgent elective surgery.

Federal data on vaccination levels among Indigenous communities reveals Victoria’s north-west region, including Mildura, is the second-lowest in the state with 60.2 per cent single-dose coverage and 33.3 per cent double-dose.

About 83.7 per cent of the local government area of Mildura’s entire population had received one dose as of Friday, slightly below the state average of 85.2 per cent.

Mildura Base Public Hospital chief executive Terry Welch confirmed there were several cases among the Indigenous community and Mallee District Aboriginal Services were offering tailored vaccination and testing arrangements, including rapid antigen tests.

Mildura Base Public Hospital chief executive Terry Welch.Credit:Carmel Zaccone (supplied)

“We’re very concerned with this outbreak compared with what we’ve had previously because we’re seeing cases unlinked,” he said.

“It’s definitely hitting all aspects of community, children as well as Indigenous people. On the ground we’re certainly feeling some pressure, we’re very concerned about the spread, and we’re hoping the lockdown is able to slow the rate of transmission.”

Mr Welch said parts of the hospital had been activated into specific COVID-19 areas, while some non-life threatening procedures had been cancelled.

“We’re seeing COVID-positive patients come through our health system and we’ve streamed at least one patient to metropolitan facilities,” he said.

As active cases breach the 17,000 mark, Ms Matson said authorities were no longer monitoring secondary close contacts.

Those secondary contacts, such as the housemates of a primary close contact, will not be required to self-isolate and about 16,000 people will receive a test message this weekend releasing them from quarantine.

In a further sign of the impact of surging case numbers, 117 of the 578 Victorians in hospital were in intensive care, including 83 on ventilators.

Documents attached to last month’s road map announced that, as well as changes to elective surgery at 600 hospitalisations, additional home-based care may be required. Elective surgery is currently operating at 50 per cent.

At 1000 hospitalisations, the road map proposes seeking further additional workforces and reducing elective surgery “to a minimum”.

Victorian Healthcare Association chief executive Tom Symondson said with Burnet Institute modelling suggesting a peak of 2500 hospitalisations, health services were urgently working to increase their capacity.

“We’re already seeing hospitals training allied health professionals such as physiotherapists to help discharge patients with COVID-19 from emergency departments so nurses and doctors can keep working with sicker patients, and Ambulance Victoria is bringing in defence force and SES personnel to expand its capacity,” he said.

Mr Symondson added that he expected the “extraordinary test” posed by COVID-19 to continue for the next six to 12 months.

South Australia is on alert for a new incursion of COVID-19 after a COVID-positive airline crew member travelled on flights across three states, including South Australia, while infectious in recent days.

Ms Matson said the Virgin Australia cabin crew member had worked on six flights spanning Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.

“Passengers on those flights are being contacted by the relevant jurisdictions, and we’ve been in close contact with both New South Wales and South Australia, and working closely with them to contact relevant passengers,” she said.

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