Leaders in the Goldfields are concerned the WA government’s current COVID-19 border controls are putting regional communities at risk, following confirmation that another truck driver tested positive after entering the state.
The WA government announced on Wednesday that a COVID-positive truck driver, who made a return trip from New South Wales to Western Australia, had visited sites in Coolgardie, Southern Cross and Balladonia.
It is the second scare for the region in less than a month, with two COVID-positive interstate freight drivers having visited locations along the route, which is the main freight pathway between Perth and the east coast.
Laurene Bonza, President of the Shire of Dundas, which includes much of the interstate freight route from Norseman to the South Australian border, says COVID protocols around freight transportation do not do enough to protect communities in her area.
“I understand that it’s difficult to manage but it’s a little ticking time bomb,” she said.
Concerns health system ‘won’t cope’
Cr Bonza said the community was bracing for what felt like an “inevitable” COVID outbreak, and while the local health system had a plan in place, it was not equipped to cope with multiple cases.
“If push came to shove and we had some cases in town, then our little hospital wouldn’t be able to deal with it,” Cr Bonza said.
“We are ever vigilant, and just waiting for the worst to happen really.”
Truck drivers are stopped at the WA border by police and must show a negative COVID-19 test result before they are allowed to enter the state.
But Goldfields leaders believe there are flaws in the system.
“They might have a negative test that might subsequently turn positive, it just depends where in the cycle they are,” Cr Bonza said.
Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said he was “extremely concerned” about the capacity of the health system to cope, particularly in vulnerable areas.
“The whole health system has been chronically underfunded by the McGowan government over the last four years,” Dr Duncan-Smith said.
“It results in an inability to respond to a COVID outbreak unless pretty much all other business as usual is cancelled.”
He said the health funding announced in the state budget reduced resources for hospital operations when adjusted for inflation and most of the money was for infrastructure, not operational costs.
“It appears to be shiny and great with billions here, billions there, but all of that money is capital expenditure,” Dr Duncan-Smith said.
He said WA’s only intensive care unit beds were in Perth and Bunbury and there were not enough to cope with an outbreak.
“Intensive care unit beds are already pretty full. If there was a COVID outbreak they can’t just be emptied out — that’s why the West Australian health system is on tenterhooks,” he said.
Low compliance with SafeWA sign-in
Mal Cullen, president of Coolgardie Shire, where a roadhouse was on the list of exposure sites from the most recent incident, said he was concerned about reports of low compliance with COVID rules.
“Several of our residents have raised the concerns that a lot of people that go into the roadhouses and businesses do not sign in,” he said.
“There’s no policing of it — our police force are understaffed and undermanned.
“The government has got to step up a little bit and make sure these protocols are followed.”
Cr Cullen said he also believed an outbreak was inevitable under the current system.
“It’s the health department and the state government, they’re supposed to be in control of it, and it appears in this case they are not quite there,” he said.
A WA Department of Health spokesperson said contact tracers worked hard and fast to get the best possible information to the community.
“This is by a number of means including telephone calls, SafeWA app data, review of CCTV [done by police] and more,” the spokesperson said.
“We would encourage the community to keep checking HealthyWA for the latest information.”
WA Country Health Services were contacted by the ABC about the capacity of regional hospitals to cope with a COVID outbreak, but declined to comment.
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