Health officials are urging the Aboriginal community in Moree to come forward for Covid testing and vaccination as cases multiply after last week’s funeral and wake for Gomeroi man Gordon Copeland.
The Moree local government area has recorded 54 cases and has one of the lowest Aboriginal vaccination rates in New South Wales.
Hunter-New England public health physician Dr David Durrheim said the low vaccination rate was “really disturbing”.
“We’ve seen a huge impact on Aboriginal people in these areas and we know that this has been linked to some super-spreader events, particularly a funeral, a wake, a number of very large social gatherings and a celebration,” Durrheim said.
“There are many people who are at real risk with comorbidities, who will actually develop severe Covid disease,” he said. “We really urge people in the Inverell and in the Moree area … you have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state. It’s time to turn that around. It’s time to actually be done with Covid-19. It’s time to roll up your sleeves get vaccinated.”
Moree shire has a first-dose rate of 86.6% and 76.4% of the population is fully vaccinated, but the Aboriginal double-vaccination rate in the region is 66%.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has moved Moree shire out of its border bubble for the next seven days, and said residents of towns close to the border, like Mungindi and Boggabilla, will no longer have access except in exceptional circumstances.
“What we do know is a large number of people who are testing positive are unvaccinated and that is of concern,” Palaszczuk said. “We will try to get supplies to the communities in NSW rather than having to cross to get supplies into Queensland.
“It is really important that we ensure the safety of those townships across our Queensland border. I think people will understand that. It is the right thing to do at this particular point.”
Local state MP Adam Marshall said the community had stepped up in the last two days to get tested and isolate. He said it is “great news” that not one of the 54 active cases have been hospitalised or placed in ICU.
More than 200 members of the Aboriginal community of north-west NSW gathered last week to mourn the death of Copeland, who had been missing for 80 days.
The 22-year-old was last seen alive in the Gwydir River near Moree after a police incident in the early hours of 10 July.
In a statement released three days after he disappeared, police said they had seen a black hatchback speeding through Moree about 2.30am on 10 July and later found the car bogged near a bridge on the Carnarvon highway.
“Officers attempted to speak with a man at the scene. However, he allegedly ran from police and was seen entering the Gwydir River.”
Police called off the search for Copeland three days after he went missing, but his family continued to look for him.
Copeland’s family says his mother, Narelle, spent over $8,000 on boats, GoPros, wetsuits, fuel and food. After sustained public pressure and a meeting between the NSW coroner and police, the search resumed on 5 October. The following day police divers discovered Copeland’s remains, 500 metres from where he was last seen entering the river.
Copeland’s funeral on 27 October was attended by hundreds, who walked the main street ahead of the service. There were no public health restrictions in place at the time.