31st March, 2020

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19, 31 March 2020

Communicable Diseases Coronavirus/COVID-19

In early March the Australian Government convened the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19 (the
Taskforce) to develop and deliver a National
Management Plan
to protect communities and save lives.

The Taskforce is co-chaired by the National Aboriginal
Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and the Department of Health.
It includes leaders from NACCHO and their affiliates, Aboriginal Health
Services, state and territory public health representatives, the Australian
Indigenous Doctors Association and the National Indigenous Australian’s Agency
(NIAA) as well as Public Health Medical Officers (PHMOs) and communicable
disease experts. The taskforce has been meeting twice a week, with
out-of-session issues discussed and addressed daily.

The determined and coordinated effort by the Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander health sector has meant that the National Management
Plan will support the delivery of health care that is locally-led, holistic,
comprehensive, and culturally safe to the community, during the Coronavirus
pandemic.

A four-phase plan to
protect communities

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians over the
age of 50 and those with a chronic condition are considered to be among the
group of Australians most at risk of Coronavirus. The National Management Plan adopts COVID-19 responses already
underway in Australia, but with specific operational guidance and tailoring
relevant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and how the
health sector can best respond in an effective and culturally safe way. The
Plan acknowledges that remote communities face additional challenges in
responding to Coronavirus.

The four phases of the National Management Plan include:

  • Phase 1:
    Preparedness:
    The taskforce has been engaging with stakeholders to ensure
    culturally safe and consistent advice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
    peoples by developing the guiding principles, context, key issues and targeted
    action for planning, response and management for Coronavirus. Targeted
    communication resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
    have been developed and can be found here.
  • Phase 2:
    Suspected or initial cases:
    Building on the preparedness phase, the
    Taskforce has developed advice on a range of actions to prevent sustained
    community transmission.
  • Phase 3: Outbreak
    situations:
    Delivering an effective response to outbreaks in communities
    will require an increased response, including the potential deployment of
    mobile respiratory clinics.
  • Phase 4: Stand-down
    and evaluation:
     When the threat of
    Coronavirus has reduced and risk to communities is lowered, the Australian
    Government will support communities in their recovery. Lessons learned from
    this pandemic will be incorporated into future National Pandemic Planning.

This plan was endorsed by the Australian Health Protection
Principal Committee (AHPPC) on Friday

27 March and came into effect on Tuesday 31 March 2020.  

Additional action to further protect and
support communities

The Australian and State
and Territory Governments, working hand-in-hand with Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander communities, have put in place a number of other measures to
help and support communities during the Coronavirus pandemic.

  • Minimising
    remote communities’ exposure to Coronavirus:
    In addition to the National
    Management Plan, the Government is working to minimise the exposure of
    Coronavirus to remote and very remote communities. Access to these communities
    has been restricted to protect community members from the spread of
    Coronavirus. Those returning to communities will be required to self-isolate
    for 14 days in line with health guidelines.

    More: https://www.niaa.gov.au/covid19-remote-communities
  • Biosecurity
    Restrictions
    are in place now in WA, NT, Qld (including the Torres Strait)
    and PNG. Land Councils have stopped issuing new travel permits to
    communities.  Communities have taken
    their own action to restrict visitors to communities. All non-essential visitors to remote communities have ceased. Taskforce
    members are working with mining companies located in close proximity to
    communities to ensure there is minimal risk of transmission.
  • In the event of positive Coronavirus cases in remote
    communities, provisions have been made to evacuate
    early cases
    to enable an effective response and limit exposure to other
    community members.
  • Working towards opening GP-led respiratory clinics to provide advice and health care to
    people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms while reducing the pressure on
    hospitals and the risk of transmission by visits to regular GP clinics. Sites
    for the respiratory clinics, which will include some Aboriginal Community
    Controlled Health Services (ACCHS), are currently being determined and progressively
    rolled out.
  • The Australian Government, working with Aboriginal and
    mainstream primary care services, is expanding telehealth (phone and video calls with your health care provider)
    to allow eligible patients to access both Coronavirus & ongoing care when
    they most need it and protect both patients and health care providers from the
    risk of infection.
  • Infectious
    Control eLearning
    courses have been developed for workers in the health
    care sector and freely available to all with caring responsibilities. Specific
    resources for Aboriginal Health Workers, Practitioners, and specific settings
    such as remote communities are being developed. Access the training here: https://covid-19training.gov.au/
  • Community Clinic
    Preparedness:
    All Aboriginal community clinics have heightened awareness of
    Coronavirus risk and many clinics across Australia are working in preparedness
    for Coronavirus. The Australian Government, working with NACCHO, is providing
    funding to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and local health
    clinics across 110 communities for preparedness activities.
  • The taskforce continues to monitor the ongoing need for
    personal protective equipment (PPE) for
    clinicians working in communities across Australia. Taskforce members from the
    ACCHS sector provide strong advocacy on this issue, regularly reporting
    identified issues for action.
  • Working to rapidly establish and increase our capacity
    to perform quick testing in remote
    communities
    .
  • The taskforce meets with the Communicable Diseases
    Network and all other Government Agencies to ensure the strongest approach to
    protect communities.  

More information can be found here

Messages to share

Keeping your Mob safe

Everybody is at risk of contracting COVID-19 so you need to
protect yourself and others in your community. Especially elders.

We all need to work together to keep our communities safe
and stop the spread of the virus. Government action alone is not enough.

As the Government is undertaking a broad range of actions to
support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, we can
all act to protect and save lives by doing three simple things:

  1. Staying healthy and strong with good hygiene
    1. Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands with soap and
      water (where possible) for at least 20 seconds after you cough or sneeze, go to
      the toilet, and before you make any food.
    1. Cough or sneeze into your arm or inside of elbow, not
      your hands.
    1. Put your tissues in the bin after you use them and wash
      your hands after.
    1. Don’t touch your face.
    1. Clean surfaces often, such as door handles, kitchen and
      bathroom.
    1. Don’t hug or shake hands with people.
    1. If you are sick with a fever, cough or sore throat and
      feel tired or are having trouble breathing, keep away from people and family in
      the community and seek medical help.

  1.  Protecting your communities
    and Elders
    1. Don’t travel to places in your community, or other
      communities, unless you have to.
    1. Stay at home and away from other people as much as you
      can. If you are around people, try to stay two metres away from them. That’s
      two big steps.
    1. If you use medication, make sure keep taking it to stay
      as healthy as possible.
    1. Don’t share cups or water bottles
    1. Don’t smoke or share smokes with other people.
    1. Get a flu shot and protect yourself and your family
      from the flu too.
  2.  Staying connected
    1. It’s important we stay connected with family, friends
      and community.
    1. Call people for a yarn on the phone.
    1. Talk about the community and check if they are OK.
    1. Talk about the virus and how to stop the spread.
    1. Connect to family and friends on social media.
    1. Share your tips on social media #KeepOurMobSafe

By taking action together we will slow the spread, take the
pressure off our doctors and nurses and ultimately save lives – keeping your
mob safe and well.

Where can I go for help?

Keep safe by knowing the symptoms of Coronavirus. The most
common symptoms are fever, sore throat, cough, tiredness and difficulty
breathing.

If you or are a family member are experiencing these
symptoms, or you are concerned about their health, you can:

  1. Call your local Aboriginal
    Medical Service, or someone you trust in the community if you feel unwell.
  2. Call the 24-hour National
    COVID-19 Hotline can 1800 020 080.
  3. Visit www.niaa.gov.au for
    information about remote community closures.
  4. Check out the newest
    information on www.health.gov.au

Additional Resources

National resources:

Department of Health https://www.health.gov.au/

Australia.gov.au www.aus.gov.au

National Indigenous Australians Agency Coronavirus
Information https://www.niaa.gov.au/covid19-remote-communities

Indigenous.gov.au https://www.indigenous.gov.au/

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
https://www.naccho.org.au/

NACCHO Coronavirus Information https://www.naccho.org.au/home/aboriginal-health-alets-coronavirus-covid-19/

State and Territory
Resources:

Queensland

https://www.qld.gov.au/health/conditions/health-alerts/coronavirus-covid-19

Consumers: https://assetlibrary.health.qld.gov.au/share/9EDA794F-28B6-41E3-8F545AE24E6A30A6/

Health care providers: https://assetlibrary.health.qld.gov.au/share/F505EB63-5220-44A4-BA90E22602634213/

Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council  https://www.qaihc.com.au/

New South Wales:

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/covid-19-latest.aspx

Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Councilhttps://www.ahmrc.org.au/

Victoria:

https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorian-public-coronavirus-disease-covid-19

Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health
Organisation https://www.vaccho.org.au/

Northern Territory:

https://health.nt.gov.au/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-covid-19

Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory https://www.amsant.org.au/

South Australia: https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/health+topics/health+topics+a+-+z/novel+coronavirus

Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia Ltd https://ahcsa.org.au/

Tasmania: https://www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/publichealth/communicable_diseases_prevention_unit/infectious_

diseases/coronavirus

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Inchttps://tacinc.com.au/

Western Australia:

https://www.wa.gov.au/government/coronavirus-covid-19

https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Coronavirus/Coronavirus-information-for-Aboriginal-people

Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australiahttps://www.ahcwa.org.au/

Australian Capital Territory:

https://health.act.gov.au/about-our-health-system/novel-coronavirus-covid-19

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Servicehttps://www.winnunga.org.au/