COVID-19 disrupts social fabric in the Kimberley as community transmission grows

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As COVID-19 begins to spread in the Kimberleys, locals are already feeling disruptions to their way of life, from dance parties to community sports.

On Sunday, more than 50 cases were recorded in West Kimberley, mostly in the state’s largest community, Bidyadanga.

The outbreaks marked the first community transmission in the region since the start of the pandemic, and although the arrival of the virus is expected, its impacts are far-reaching.

COVID has dealt a huge blow this weekend to thousands of people planning to attend the Broome Pride festival, with organizers postponing larger events including the cabaret and dance party.

Event chair Lucy Falcocchio said it was a tough decision given that the festival has already imposed a 75% density limit for events that are expected to draw large crowds.

“We were watching 3,000 people at the dance party…the last thing we want to be part of is anything that would harm the community,” she said.

Broome Pride organizers decided its larger events posed too much of a risk to the community.(Provided by: Laura Gass)

She said some of the smaller events would continue, but organizers would be guided by rising case numbers.

“We will assess these things day by day. I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. However, if things change, we will change too.”

The community cracks down on visitors

About 200 kilometers north of Broome, Djarindjin moved quickly to further restrict entry conditions as indigenous communities across the Kimberley assess similar movements.

Six-month permits have been revoked, meaning visitors such as family members and contractors will have to reapply to enter on a case-by-case basis.

Djarindjin Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Nathan McIvor urged people to follow the rules.

Aerial view of the community of Djarindjin, surrounded by bushes and water.
Djarindjin has tightened entry requirements to protect residents from the virus.(ABC News: Erin Parke)

About 400 people live in Djarindjin and 97% are double vaccinated.

Although high vaccination rates have been shown to prevent hospitalizations in remote communities, McIvor said residents support a cautious approach.

“Are we going to keep COVID out? Probably not…but at least we have the measures in place.”

COVID-19 puts football season under a cloud

Football in the Kimberleys is an integral part of life, but the spread of COVID-19 has cast a shadow over the season ahead.

Warmun, like most indigenous communities, was closed last year, but an exemption allowed teams to travel to the community to play football.

A predominantly Indigenous football team comes together
The Warmun Eagles have pulled out of the league to protect the community from COVID-19.(ABC News: Ted O’Connor)

Last week, the community decided not to pursue this arrangement, prompting the Warmun Eagles to withdraw from the 2022 East Kimberley Football League season.

League chairman Wayne Paul said the competition supports the move.

“The league has no problem with that. It’s good to see them taking their health and safety responsibly,” he said.

He said the league still expects the season to continue, but acknowledged challenges loom.

“No reason why we can’t have a season. There’s no government mandate that says we can’t play sports.

“The biggest issue will be that teams will lose players with COVID as they have to drop out and self-isolate.”

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