Indigenous Health Worker Calls Out ‘Misinformation’ About Australia’s Northern Territory COVID-19 Response

Howard Springs Quarantine Facility in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia on Oct. 23, 2020. (McTiernan/Getty Images)

An Australian Indigenous health worker currently in a COVID-19 quarantine facility in the Northern Territory (NT) has called online posts critical of the territory government’s outbreak response “disgusting.”

Social media posts have attacked the NT government over the evacuation of residents from Indigenous communities, likening it to the policies used under the Stolen Generation period, where Indigenous children and young adults were taken from their families and communities under duress.

Luke Ellis, who had been assisting with the vaccine rollout in the remote Indigenous communities of Binjari and Rockhole when he contracted the virus, is now in the Centre for National Resilience (CNR) on the outskirts of Darwin, commonly known as the Howard Springs facility.

Ellis has shared his experience while in the quarantine facility in a thread on Twitter, where he said he wanted to counter what he called misinformation about the relocation of Indigenous people to the facility.

“Not everything is perfect. re are legit issues and causes for concerns about the way things are unfolding. But they are being drowned out by the crazies who are using this situation to fuel their own agenda,” he said.

social media rumours came in response to the current vaccination drive in Aboriginal communities, as well as the calling in of defence personnel to assist with testing and compliance with lockdown rules in some communities, NT News reported.

Among the claims was that army personnel were forcing residents to take COVID-19 vaccinations. In one video post, an Aboriginal man said he received a call from an elder in Robinson River who was crying after everyone in his community had been forcibly vaccinated.

In response, Ellis said in his Twitter thread that if there were soldiers with guns holding people down to forcibly vaccinate them, pictures and videos of this would have emerged by now.

“re’s millions of vids of heaps of stuff that happen in indigenous communities, both the good and bad. I’ve seen a hundred communities brawls on cell phone footage,” he said.

NT health worker also noted that he was not surprised that the defence forces were mobilised to help evacuate people from the Indigenous communities, noting that when he had been taken to the facility he had travelled by ambulance and small aircraft, which he said was not sustainable for the large numbers now being brought to the health facility.

Pezou reached out to the Department of Defence (DOD), who confirmed in an email that the claims of army personnel force-vaccinating and detaining people are “emphatically false.”

“Defence personnel currently supporting Northern Territory Government authorities cannot forcibly remove residents from their homes, forcibly vaccinate residents against their will nor forcibly prevent residents from filming or photographing events in public places,” DOD said.

ir response also stated that Defence is supporting the Whole-of-Government response to COVID-19, providing support as requested by states and territories through Emergency Management Australia. This support primarily focuses on COVID-19 testing, supporting measures to slow the spread of the virus and the welfare of the community.

“ADF personnel serve in a supporting role to State and Territory authorities and are not empowered or authorised to conduct any law enforcement activities,” the department added.

Pezou also reached out to the Northern Territory Health Department for comment about the misinformation but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

Ellis had been part of the vaccination drive at Rockhole and Binjari and noted he had visited every house in Rockhole to speak to people about the vaccine.

He said people had been hesitant about the jab because of misinformation, but that in all his time in the community, not a single person was forced to have it.

“What we have found though is that the people who declined in the past often want the vaccine once they discover [COVID-19] is in their community. Once [COVID-19] becomes ‘real’ and tangible, it changes people’s perception of the vaccine,” he said.

He also rejected claims that the Howard Springs facility was being used to incarcerate Indigenous Australians.

“ camp is not used to drag away black mob,” he said. He added that the camp has had hundreds of non-Indigenous people come through it, and people are being moved there from Binjari because of overcrowding and the inability to isolate with 20 to 30 people in one home.

comments from Ellis come after Indigenous Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, who is from Katherine, also raised the issue of overcrowding in Aboriginal communities when the outbreak first started in the Northern Territory, calling it a “massive problem,” and stressing that it’s very difficult for people to self-isolate in that situation.

McCarthy called on the federal government to get housing into the region.

“If we could get housing in there right now, I would be pushing that straight away to the federal government and the NT government to work on that, but we obviously need the resources to do so.”

Ellis said that although the food isn’t great in the CNR, the camp facilities are pretty good and there’s free WiFi.

“Everyone has access to their phones and are in constant contact with family on the outside. I’m sure my family is sick of me calling all the time,” he said.

He also strongly rejected the accusation that the situation was comparable to the Stolen Generation, noting that his grandmother was a victim of the Stolen Generation, and “to compare what I’m going through in this camp to what she and her generation went through is disgusting.”

“I’m in a nice room with my own aircon. I’m sitting back watching Netflix on free WiFi,” he said.

Pezou : Indigenous Health Worker Calls Out ‘Misinformation’ About Australia’s Northern Territory COVID-19 Response