Coronavirus crisis locks down Cape York communities
REMOTE Cape York communities have been locked down, with travel restrictions on air, sea and land access in response to the increased threat posed by the coronavirus health emergency.
Following travel bans imposed by the Northern Land Council to remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council followed suit yesterday.
The Lockhart River indigenous community is expected to announce travel bans later today.
Mayor Wayne Butcher said the Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council had met with health and government officials to stop all travel of building, education and health support workers in and out of the community.
But he was unclear how general road traffic would be kept out.
"We have got to limit the amount of people that are coming to our community … to help stop the spread of the coronavirus."
Cr Butcher said he expected mortality rates of vulnerable and at-risk community members could be much higher than the general population and was the reason for the decision.
"We have got a high rate of diabetes and people with asthma and respiratory diseases so the last thing we want is the coronavirus entering our community," he said.
He said in the event of a local outbreak the challenge would be isolating patients in a community already facing an overcrowded housing problem.
"But the biggest challenge will be managing our local people leaving and re-entering the community. We don't have the authority to stop the local population," he said.
He said elderly and the most at-risk people could be isolated by taking them "out bush".
As the Cape York tourist season gets under way Cr Butcher said he didn't know if roadblocks would be erected to limit access to Lockhart River but clarity about the lockdown was expected to come out of teleconference hook-ups slated for Wednesday.
In the far north of the Cape York Peninsula all non-essential travel north of the Jardine River to the Tip of Cape York including Bamaga, Seisia, Injinoo, Umagico and New Mapoon has been banned.
"The community is well aware of the potential threat to the health of the NPA community and especially the vulnerable," a statement from the NPARC reads.
"Only essential or urgent outwards and inward travel will be permitted as determined by the carriers (Sea Swift and Regional Express) each of whom have set their own criteria.
"Outwards travellers must be aware of the risk of not being permitted back into community depending on advice from Queensland Health as amended from time to time.
"Inward travellers to NPA will be subject to travel at the absolute discretion of the carrier, each of whom are guided by the Queensland Health Government website."
There is word on how long the ban will stay in place but travel restrictions could potentially shut down the whole 2020 Cape York travel season.
Those heading off a bucket list tip to the Tip can still drive the Telegraph Track and the Peninsula Development Rd to Weipa however travellers will not be able to resupply at Bamaga and Seisia for the return journey.
NPARC Mayor Eddie Newman has been contacted for comment.