Indigenous community members in the Queensland-New South Wales border town of Mungindi say they have been left “quite scared” and frustrated after the Queensland-run hospital suspended many of the community’s basic health services.

The hardline state border closure has cut Mungindi in two. Most residents live on the NSW side of the river. The local shops are in NSW but the hospital and pub are on the Queensland side.

Since closing the border and locking out locals, Queensland health has also pulled health services from the town, including flying five elderly residents at the hospital to Roma, more than 300km away, and St George and Collarenebri.

The health department has said the hospital will continue to operate an emergency department and vaccination clinic; but that all inpatient services and aged care had been transferred out of town.

Local residents claim vaccination appointments in recent days had been cancelled.

“They’re asking us to get the shot and they’re turning around and shutting the hospital down,” said Brian Naylon, the chief executive of the Mungindi Land Council.

“We’re tossing and turning – we’re a big community and we’re big on helping each other. It’s getting to people’s mental health now, they’re isolated, they can’t do anything.

“People are just not going to drive to Moree [the nearest larger town in NSW) for healthcare. Indigenous and non-Indigenous elderly people have got no way of getting to Moree.”

Naylon said many people in the community had chronic health conditions and had grown anxious about what would happen if they need treatment.

“People are quite scared of what could occur. There are a lot of angry, frustrated community members at the moment.”

Like most people in border communities, locals in Mungindi strongly support the need for measures to keep NSW Covid outbreak at bay.

But for community members on the wrong side of an arbitrary line – in a place where there are no current Covid cases – many are concerned that the inflexibility of border policies now places them at greater risk.

Naylon said the spread of cases in west and north-west NSW was particularly worrying.

The NSW government has been unwilling to consider Queensland suggestions to move the border south to allow free movement in border towns.

The Queensland government won’t reinstate a border bubble zone, despite lockdown rules in NSW that prevent people leaving their local government area.

Can we please find a solution for Mungindi? Thanks.

— Kevin Salter (@SkepticKev) August 25, 2021

Mungindi resident Brian McGrady says limits on travel within NSW meant people could not access some essential goods and services, which were not available in town.

“We’re locked down from Moree and we’re not allowed to go there to do shopping,” he said.

“For people who live on the Queensland side, they can’t go to the Mungindi shop. How are they going to get food?”

Farmers in surrounding rural communities have also found the border arrangements inflexible. Sam Heagney told Guardian Australia on Wednesday that exemptions for agriculture had been subject to interpretation by police at the border.

“It does raise a few alarm bells coming into harvest, how we’re going to manage that,” Heagney said.

“It will mean difficulty for Queensland farmers, for winter crop grain harvest. It’s going to be very difficult for contract harvesters from NSW or Victoria to get into Queensland and harvest the crop.”

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Queensland Health said in a statement that NSW-based hospital staff would continue to provide services, including community nursing, in the town. It said a locum medical officer “has been recruited” to provide medical assistance on the NSW side of the border and to support Covid-19 testing and vaccinations.

But locals say these arrangements have not yet been put in place.

“Given the situation in NSW, where Covid-19 is spreading broadly across the state with cases in western NSW and close to the Queensland border, careful consideration was given to ensuring the safety and ongoing protection of the community while maintaining the provision of essential public health services [in] Mungindi,” the health department said in a statement.

“It is essential that Covid-19 is kept out of [Queensland] south-west communities as significant community transmission continues across NSW.

“The situation will continue to be monitored and the resumption of usual services will resume as soon as health directions permit.”

Queensland Health said the arrangements had been “broadly communicated” to the community.


Ben Smee

The GuardianTramp

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