BBC- Anger is growing in Australia as 13 million people – about half the population – endure fresh lockdowns to quash Covid outbreaks.

A third state, South Australia, joined Victoria and parts of New South Wales in lockdown on Tuesday.

Fewer than 14% of Australians are vaccinated – the worst rating among OECD nations.

Australia’s two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are among places facing uncertainty over when to re-open.

Many people have expressed frustration at being back in highly policed lockdowns 18 months into the pandemic.

Sydneysiders can leave home for exercise and other essential reasons

Re-openings in the UK and the US have increased pressure on the federal government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been heavily criticised over the slow vaccination rate, but has resisted calls to apologise.

“No country has got their pandemic response 100%. I think Australians understand that,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

He again cited Australia’s success in keeping overall infections well below many nations. It has recorded 915 deaths.

Mr Morrison noted that the UK had seen over 90 deaths in a single day on Tuesday.

But Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers said: “This is a prime minister who hides while people hurt.”

Until recently, Australia had been largely praised for its strategy of border closures, quarantine programmes and snap lockdowns.

But the highly contagious Delta variant has challenged these defences in the past month.

The outbreak in Sydney – Australia’s largest city – has infected more than 1,500 people.

Officials reported 110 new cases on Wednesday, despite the city’s fourth week of lockdown.

Residents must not leave their homes except for grocery shopping, exercise and other essential reasons.

There are fears Sydney’s lockdown could extend into September, after modelling showed the city may be months from eliminating cases.

South Australians will endure seven days at home after five cases of the Delta variant were found.

Victoria – which saw 22 new infections on Wednesday – will keep its lockdown until at least Tuesday.

Last month, a total of seven cities were in lockdown for a brief period.

Australian authorities are committed to eliminating local cases altogether until a majority of people are vaccinated.

Critics say flawed publicity about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s rare clotting risk has made many Australians reluctant to take it.

Australia only has limited supplies of its other authorised vaccine, from Pfizer.


Mexico’s Unvaxed Indigenous People

Relatives carry a woman with symptoms of Covid-19 in Chiapas state

Disinformation has led to indigenous communities choosing not to get vaccinated

In November Pascuala Vázquez Aguilar had a strange dream about her village Coquilteel, nestled among the trees in the mountains of southern Mexico. A plague had come to the village and everyone ran to the forest. They hid in a hut under a tall canopy of oak trees.

“The plague couldn’t reach us there,” Pascuala says. “That’s what I saw in my dream.”

A few months later the pandemic had engulfed Mexico and thousands of people were dying every week. But Coquilteel and many small, indigenous towns in the state of Chiapas were left relatively unscathed. This has been a blessing but it also presents a problem.

Almost 30% of Mexicans have received one vaccine against Covid-19 so far but in the state of Chiapas the take-up rate is less than half of that. In Coquilteel, and many remote villages in the state, it’s likely to be closer to 2%. Last week Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador remarked on the low vaccination rate in Chiapas and said the government needed to do more.

Pascuala is a community health leader for 364 communities in the area and she has been vaccinated. She travels in and out of the village and worries about bringing Covid back to her family and friends who, like most of their neighbours are not vaccinated.

They’re influenced by lies and rumours swirling around on WhatsApp. Pascuala has seen messages saying the vaccine will kill people after two years, that it’s a government plot to reduce the population or that it’s a sign of the devil that curses anyone who receives it.

Teachers are vaccinated in Chiapas state in Mexicoimage copyrightAFP
image captionVaccination uptake in Chiapas state has been relatively low compared to other areas

This kind of disinformation is everywhere but in villages like Coquilteel, it can be particularly potent. “People don’t trust the government. They don’t see the government doing anything good, they just see a lot of corruption,” Pascuala says.

The community in Chilón are predominantly indigenous descendants of the Mayan civilisation. In Chiapas there are over 12 official traditional languages spoken. The first language in Coquilteel is Tzeltal and few people speak much Spanish.

The indigenous community in this part of Mexico has a history of resistance to the central authorities, culminating in the Zapatista uprising in 1994. “The government doesn’t consult people on how they want to be helped or how to govern,” says Pascuala. “The majority don’t believe that Covid exists.”

This isn’t just a problem in Mexico or in Latin America, it’s happening all over the world. In northern Nigeria in the early 2000s and later in parts of Pakistan, distrust of the authorities led to boycotts of the polio vaccine. Some of these communities believed a lie that the vaccine was sent by the US as part of the “War on Terror”, to cause infertility and reduce their Muslim population.

“There is fertile ground for rumours and misinformation where there’s already a lack of trust in authorities and maybe even in science,” says Lisa Menning, a social scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO) who researches barriers to vaccine uptake. “There are information gaps and perhaps poorly designed communications campaigns that have targeted these communities historically.”

Pascuala Vázquez Aguilar
unvaccinated friends and family might catch Covid

Nicolasa Guzmán García spends much of her day in Coquilteel tending to her chickens and growing fresh vegetable for her family. She does believe Covid is real but doesn’t feel the need to be vaccinated. “I don’t leave my home very much. I don’t travel to the city, I’m focused on looking after my animals,” she says.

She also believes that their traditional lifestyle protects the community – they eat healthy, fresh food and get a lot of fresh air and exercise. And like a lot of indigenous communities across Latin America, the Tzeltal practise a mix of Catholicism and their ancient spiritual religion.

“I can’t say if this vaccine is bad or good because I don’t know how it was made, who made it and what’s in it,” says Nicolasa. “But I prepare my traditional medicine myself so I have more confidence in it.”

She uses a mixture of cured tobacco, home-made alcohol and garlic to help with breathing problems, and tinctures made from Mexican marigold flowers or water of the rue plant for fever.

Medical doctor Gerardo González Figueroa has been treating indigenous communities in Chiapas for 15 years and says trust in herbal medicine is not just out of tradition but necessity – because medical facilities are often far away.

He believes there are some protective benefits from traditional diet, lifestyle and healing practices but he is extremely worried about low vaccination rates.

“I don’t think the efforts of the Mexican government have been strong enough in getting all of society involved,” he says. “These institutions have been acting in a paternalistic manner. It’s ‘go and get your vaccines’.”

A worker sanitises people's hands as they queue for an allowance from the local government
The indigenous community in this part of Mexico has a history of resistance to the government

The federal government has said its vaccination programme is a success, with mortality declining by 80% amidst the third wave of Covid sweeping across Mexico’s more densely populated urban areas.

Pascuala believes the authorities gave up too easily when they saw that people were rejecting getting vaccinated in the village.

“It’s a false binary to think of supply and demand as separate things,” says Lisa Menning of the WHO. She points to the US, where polling in March showed communities of colour had also been hesitant to get vaccinated until authorities put a major effort into making vaccination accessible. Vaccination rates in these communities are now much higher.

“Having easy, convenient and really affordable access to good services, where there’s a health worker who’s really well-trained and able to respond to any concerns and responds in a very caring and kind respectful way – that is what makes the difference.”

It can’t be a top-down approach, she says. “What works best is listening to communities, partnering with them, working with them.”

Coquilteel is one of millions of small, rural communities around the world where this is sorely lacking. For now, all Pascuala can do is keep trying to convince people to get vaccinated and she’s focusing her efforts on those who leave the village, like truck drivers. But until everyone is vaccinated, she can only put her trust in other powers.

“Thanks to God we live in a community where there are still trees, and where the air is still clean,” she says. “I think in some way, Mother Earth is protecting us.”




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