Coronavirus: health service, government clash over homeless COVID-19 testing | The Canberra Times


The ACT government and the health service for Aboriginal people have clashed over testing homeless people for coronavirus. It comes as shelters for all homeless people in Canberra fail to open for the winter because of virus fears. Some Aboriginal people are not being tested for COVID-19 because of the lack of accommodation where they can isolate, according to Julie Tongs, chief executive of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services. But the ACT government said: “ACT Health can provide assistance to anybody who is required to quarantine or isolate but does not have a suitable place to do so, including people who need to quarantine while they await test results.” Ms Tongs has voiced her anger to the government over what she thinks is a neglect of poorer people in Canberra, including Aboriginal people with mental health and drug issues. READ MORE: “We’ve got a lot of people living in poverty,” she said. The health centre in Narrabundah has about 1,800 clients, of whom about 500 have problems of addiction or mental health, she said. “When people get tested, they have to isolate while they wait for the results but often they are living in over-crowded houses.” For what she calls “high-risk clients” – those with serious mental or addiction problems – testing is another pressure. “At the moment, we are trying not to test for high-risk clients because we don’t want to complicate what they already have.” She had sent angry emails to the ACT government highlighting the dilemma. The ACT authorities and agencies have been wrestling with how homeless people fit into a system of quarantine and self-isolation. Safe Shelter ACT would normally have opened shelters for the winter but didn’t this year because of the risks to the homeless and staff. “Safe Shelter believes that encouraging homeless men to congregate in our shelters this winter would be contrary to the national COVID-19 strategy, which is to increase the levels of isolation in the population to reduce the rate of the spread of the virus,” a statement said. Earlier in April, Minister for Housing Yvette Berry indicated to the ACT Legislative Assembly the scale of homelessness would likely increase in the territory. Ms Berry told the assembly work had been done to develop an alternative model in the wake of Safe Shelter’s closure. Our COVID-19 news articles relating to public health and safety are free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support. If you’re looking to stay up to date on COVID-19, you can also sign up for our twice-daily digest here.

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