Push for more Indigenous COVID protections

Health Minister Greg Hunt says the government can only act with the consent of traditional owners.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says the government can only act with the consent of traditional owners.

The federal government has resisted calls for tighter COVID-19 restrictions across Central Australian Indigenous communities as infections spike.

While the Northern Territory is responsible for lockdowns, the federal government has the power to restrict people entering and leaving remote communities under the Biosecurity Act.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Central Land Council and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory have lashed what they see as major failures to protect vulnerable communities.

"Because there is a lag between infections and hospitalisations, it is too early to become complacent and suggest that the rising case numbers will not lead to severe disease and deaths," their joint letter to the NT government read.

"We don't think we should have been put in the situation where it is primarily Aboriginal people who are being asked to take the risk that Omicron is only a mild virus."

When questioned about the concerns, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government could only act with the consent of traditional owners.

"We would only put in place restriction movements with the consent of the traditional owners and the Indigenous communities," he told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

The Northern Territory recorded 940 new infections on Friday, 626 the day before and 778 on Wednesday.

Mr Hunt said Indigenous vaccination rates had risen significantly, noting the first-dose rate for over-16s was about 81 per cent. But the double-dose rate is about 75 per cent.

There is no breakdown for the proportion of Indigenous adults who have received a booster shot, or the rate of children aged between five and 11 vaccinated, in the federal government's daily COVID-19 update.

The federal health department told AAP just over 50 per cent of eligible Indigenous people had received a booster.

It did not address questions about the vaccination rate for Indigenous children under the age of 12.

"The government continues to work with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, state and territory governments and local communities to increase vaccination rates in indigenous communities," it said.

The government has repeatedly pointed to misinformation as a reason for lower Indigenous vaccination rates.

"We are doing everything we can to provide culturally sensitive information to our Aboriginal people in order they can help understand the importance of what they need to do to keep themselves and others safe," Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan said.

Australian Associated Press