The Australian government has drawn flak over a “disappointing” vaccine rollout in remote Indigenous communities in New South Wales (NSW) – despite being warned more than a year ago about the need for “urgent and drastic action.”

In March 2020, an Aboriginal health organization in the state wrote to Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt about its “grave fears” over the potential for a Covid-19 outbreak. Although both federal and state governments were alerted, the health body said no “tangible plan” was put in place.

With the virus’ Delta strain spreading across the country, there has been a surge of cases in the western portion of NSW. More than 70 cases were detected in the small town of Wilcannia – where over 10% of the population has been infected.

NSW Health reported the first Indigenous death in the outbreak on Monday. The Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation, which alerted Wyatt last year, told Guardian Australia that Wilcannia was dealing with challenges resulting from “decades of failure, at all levels of government”.

“Covid-19 hits hardest in communities where there are poor services and systems. It exposes disadvantage and inequality, and there are few more disadvantaged regions than the far west of NSW,” the group’s CEO Bob Davis said.

Read More: Indigenous health bodies SLAM Australian govt’s ‘joke’ response to Covid outbreak in remote communities despite 18 months’ notice

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