Far West New South Wales residents are flocking to be tested since a COVID-19 positive case was detected in the outback town of Broken Hill after that person had attended a funeral in Wilcannia while infectious. 

Key points:

  • The positive case is a Broken Hill resident who was infectious in the community for the past three days
  • The positive case attended a funeral in Wilcannia, but the cause of transmission is unknown
  • Local health authorities are urging anyone with even the mildest of symptoms to get tested

The Far West Local Health District confirmed a Broken Hill resident became symptomatic on August 16 and had been infectious in the community for the previous three days.

FWLHD chief executive Umit Agis said the district was still waiting on a list of exposure sites for the region.

Mr Agis confirmed the positive case attended a funeral in Wilcannia — 200 kilometres east of Broken Hill — while infectious, but the source of transmission to that person was unknown.

“The information that I have is that the person had attended only Wilcannia during the time when they were infectious. I don’t have any other information that would indicate they were in other communities while they were infectious,” he said.

Close contacts of the confirmed case that have been identified so far are in isolation, with contact tracers continuing investigations.

Authorities first became alerted after fragments of COVID-19 were detected in Broken Hill sewage samples taken on August 12.

Broken Hill memorial oval pop-up testing site with a line of cars snaking around the dusty car park

A pop-up COVID-19 testing site at Memorial Oval in Broken Hill was inundated with cars lining up for testing.(

ABC Broken Hill: Jonathon Poulson

)

Urgent call for testing

Local health authorities have ramped up testing in the region, urging all residents with even the mildest of cold-like symptoms to come forward immediately for testing.

“The community has heard our calls [and], as of about midday, we had [more than] 170 people come forward for testing in Broken Hill,” Mr Agis said.

Additional testing clinics have been set up in Broken Hill, Wilcannia and the Maari Ma Health Service, while the Royal Flying Doctor Service has travelled to Wilcannia to help with the vaccination rollout.

Tomorrow could be ‘a very bad day’

Meanwhile, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said health authorities were concerned about potential transmission at more than one funeral in Wilcannia last week.

Mr Barilaro also said more positive cases were likely to appear in the region over the coming days.

“We are concerned, very concerned, that cases will continue to rise.

“Tomorrow could be a very bad day. So we’re expecting cases to rise, based on the data that we have in front of us.”

There are growing fears the virus will spread in Wilcannia — a predominantly Indigenous and at-risk community — with houses almost always overcrowded.

Broken Hill Mayor Darriea Turley said that, while now was not the time to visit family members or loved ones, taking care of one another remained important.

“I’m really worried about people’s mental health at this stage and about struggles some people will face — but we’ll get through this,” Ms Turley said.

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Fears for Far West communities after COVID-19 case detected
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