Australia’s assistance in a COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Papua New Guinea could help protect vulnerable communities in the Torres Strait, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says.
Of the 500 tests health authorities have recently assisted PNG with, half have returned a positive result.
“Maybe we need to look at a vaccine rollout program there as well, it’s right on our doorstop and it’s a real risk,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Monday.
“That’s why we’re getting our Torres Strait Islanders vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
She hoped to speak with the Prime Minister’s office on Monday regarding further protection measures, including the number of incoming flights.
An outbreak in a Torres Strait community would be “devastating”, Mayor of the Torres Strait Island Regional Council, Phillemon Mosby said.
It’s just a dinghy ride from the closest islands to PNG, and communities shared a strong relationship, he said.
“We’re not like any other part of Australia, we’re very remote, very vulnerable, and therefore careful consideration needs to be taken when we’re rolling out a vaccination like this to combat a global health pandemic,” he said.
He has welcomed Queensland’s move to prioritise vaccinations in the Torres Strait and is working alongside Mayor of the Torres Shire Council Vonda Malone to prepare for the rollout currently under way.
Communication in the remote and linguistically-diverse region has been a priority.
“We understand that the time frame has left us to really escalate and use all our means of communication to get it out appropriately with the different languages,” Ms Malone said.
There are more than 100 Indigenous health workers in the region who will play an important role in the “interpretation that’s required to make our community members feel comfortable about coming forward”, she said.
Mr Mosby asked the community to look to official channels rather than rely on social media for information.
“Please understand that this is a a very important step for us all to take to ensure vulnerable members of our community and especially out families, remain safe from this terrible virus,” he said.