The powerful Central Land Council has called on governments to guarantee food supplies in Aboriginal communities during the coronavirus pandemic to stop Indigenous people defying stay home orders and travelling.
They must also monitor the price of food items in remote community stores and come down hard on price gouging, says Joe Martin-Jard, chief executive of the CLC representing Indigenous people in the south of the Northern Territory.
Vast swathes of the NT, along with WA and Queensland, have been shut off from the world to try and stop COVID-19 spreading there.
The virus would have a devastating effect on vulnerable Aboriginal populations, many of whom have diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses.
“We need immediate freight subsidies and supply guarantees for these stores so they can reduce their prices and don’t run out of essential supplies,” Mr Martin-Jard said.
Food and other essentials at local stores were becoming unaffordable and scarce, sparking fears community residents will travel in and out of biosecurity areas to shop in Alice Springs and put themselves at greater risk of getting the virus.
Panic buying in cities has contributed to the problem.
Even before the pandemic hit, remote community residents paid on average 60 per cent more in their stores for groceries and many travelled to towns to buy cheaper food.
“In one community store, a lettuce costs $10,” Mr Martin-Jard said.
“People pay $5.50 for tinned steak when they could buy it at a major supermarket for $1.70.
“Some tins of food at that store go for $10.”
He called for governments to boost emergency food relief programs and work with Coles and Woolworths to provide separate support to guarantee supplies.
There were six new cases on Wednesday in the remote Kimberley region of WA bordering NT, raising the total to 12.
Five of the six cases work in health, three in Broome, one in Kununurra and one in Halls Creek.
NT Police responded by sending extra numbers to monitor the border, NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.
The Australian Federal Police has also begun deploying up to 102 police and Protective Service Officers to the NT to provide respite to local police in enforcing strict new border rules and biosecurity checkpoints near remote communities.
Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said on Thursday that since the COVID-19 outbreak, he has held daily teleconference meetings with the Commonwealth National Indigenous Australians Agency and his ministerial team.
They were working strategically through issues including dealing with an outbreak and protecting people, he said.
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