Elderly woman forced to isolate under a tree in remote community due to lack of facilities

A resident of the remote community of Yuendumu, who is caring for a toddler and a partner on dialysis, is pleading with the Northern Territory government to provide a local quarantine facility, after her Covid-positive elderly relative was forced to sleep outside on the veranda and spend three days under a tree in order to safely isolate from the rest of the family.

The Warlpiri woman, who has asked not to be named, says she is “stressed and worried” that her child and partner remain exposed to the virus while the relative remains in their care. She says communication with health officials has left her confused about whether her relative will be sent to quarantine elsewhere or asked stay at home.

“There should be a quarantine place somewhere in Yuendumu,” the woman says. “Positive people have been staying in their houses, in every house in Yuendumu, that’s how the spread went really fast.”

The woman suggested vacant homes in town, or local public facilities, could be used for quarantine to take pressure off families whose homes are overcrowded, and where positive people are sharing the one bathroom or kitchen. In one Yuendumu home, it has been reported, 23 people are sharing the facilities.

“It’s to keep the community and houses safer. That way we don’t have to be stressing out and frustrated, keeping positive people in our yard,” she says.

NT Health has been contacted for comment, to clarify the policy for managing Covid in remote communities, including under what circumstances people are being asked to remain at home, and the criteria are for removing remote residents to quarantine facilities.

Last week, leaked minutes of the Yuendumu local emergency health response group – made up of NT police, health workers and key community organisations – expressed concern that the “urban model” of managing Covid at home was not working in the community.

“It appears that the outbreak cannot be contained by using the tools (targeted testing) and practices (quarantine/lockout/living with Covid) in place. An approach that is not working for the community and more fit for an urban mainstream environment,” the minutes of the 17 January meeting said.

“Need to have an honest and transparency [sic] that it is not working and because of that it is placing everyone at risk. Futile to keep supporting an urban model.”

On Friday Yuendumu recorded 12 new Covid cases, bringing to 53 the total number of active cases in a population of about 750 people.

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