Increased outreach

SWAN Hill council agrees there needs to be increased outreach and screening for coronavirus (COVID-19) to vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups, and to agriculture workers who have moved between regions for work.

In a notice of motion to last week's council meeting, Cr Nicole McKay said the Robinvale population study and statistics of health service use were evidence of a large migrant worker population within the region.

"This population would be particularly vulnerable to a COVID-19 outbreak for the following reasons: Languages Other Than English (LOTE), group accommodation is frequently used; circumstances that reduce ability to access services, such as lack of access to transport, remote locations, and no Medicare access," she said.

"This population has been a major contributor to the success of our labour-intensive horticultural industry.

"Swan Hill District Health, Robinvale District Health Services and the Swan Hill Rural City Council has pro-actively promoted and sourced health information for this community, however, this must be maintained."

Cr McKay said in other countries, such as Singapore, migrant workers have been vulnerable to infection.

"For these reasons it is essential that our governments are aware of these populations and provide all possible assistance so that COVID-19 testing and management strategies be available to their fullest extent to maximise the health of the community," she said.

The Murray-Mallee ward representative moved that council write to the federal and Victorian health ministers to communicate:

1. Council's support and willingness to participate in any program that would provide for accommodation for COVID-19 positive and at-risk individuals to be isolated in quarantine accommodation to prevent spread within the community.

2. The need to facilitate increased outreach and screening for COVID-19 to vulnerable and hard to reach groups, and to agricultural workers who have moved between regions for work, in order to protect: first and foremost, their health; the wellbeing of the agricultural workforce, and the general community.

3. That funding be provided to support both these important public health strategies.

Cr McKay said the control of COVID-19 was essential to the wellbeing and economy of our community.

"It is in our interest to support the recovery of COVID-19 positive individuals and do everything to reduce transmission to their family, housemates, and the general community by assisting them to maintain quarantine," she said.

"The Australian Government is considering the establishment of 'medihotels' to enable COVID-19 positive, and those experiencing mild symptoms, to recover in quarantine.

"Transmission of the virus is highly likely in familial groups due to impracticality of utilising PPE (personal and protective equipment) and infection control skills. Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China's success in limiting growth of COVID-19 has depended on testing, contact tracing and careful government funded accommodation of cases to ensure effective quarantine."

Cr McKay added it appeared social distancing and stage three restrictions had a positive impact on limiting spread in Australia.

"It is now essential that we work together with fastidious care to bed down these gains by ensuring that community transmission is disabled. We will do this respecting human rights, whilst emphasising responsibility for protection of the common good. We will work to ensure that there is no stigma attached to positive diagnosis and continue Australia's long tradition of successful public health campaigns."

Cr Les McPhee said the world was going to be a different place when it comes out of the virus pandemic, and "maybe for a better place, too, as a result".

"The fact the government is considering the establishment of hotels is a great opportunity for our accommodation facilities up here who are hurting along with tourism and restaurants," he said in seconding the motion.

"They are the ones hurting the most, but we are very lucky we have agriculture — they are still going — but we need to protect them to ensure workers in those areas aren't spreading the virus amongst them, because we not only provide food for our area but the whole of Australia, we are the food bowl."