The Australian Defence Force has rejected “wild” social media claims it is forcibly vaccinating Indigenous Northern Territorians against COVID-19.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner urged people to ignore the “ridiculous rumours” and “insane crap” about the military’s support role amid a 52 case outbreak that has infected mostly Aboriginal Territorians.
He said Defence personnel were carrying fresh food for locked down communities and vulnerable people, not guns.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the BS that’s flying around the internet about the territory is coming from flogs outside the territory,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“People who have nothing better to do than make up lies.”
Mr Gunner said hundreds of health workers, police, military personnel and NGO staff were working around the clock to stop the outbreak from spreading.
“We are trying to protect the oldest continuous living culture on the planet,” he said.
“We have tens of thousands of years of history, law, custom and song to keep alive.
“If anybody thinks we are going to get distracted or intimated by tinfoil hat-wearing tossers sitting in their parents’ basements … then you do not know us Territorians.”
The misinformation alleges infected Aboriginal people are being forcibly transferred to quarantine facilities while likening them to the stolen generation.
Some traditional owners also accused ADF personnel of holding down people in some Indigenous communities and injecting them with the vaccine.
The posts have been shared and reposted hundreds of times on Facebook and other platforms and there are fears they could threaten efforts to contain an outbreak.
The ADF called for social media users to report the “spurious” claims, saying they were “deliberate disinformation”.
“Defence is aware of social media posts claiming the Australian Defence Force is forcibly vaccinating or detaining members of the Australian community,” a spokesman said in a statement.
“These claims are emphatically false.”
Colonel Tim Rutherford, the ADF’s NT COVID-19 response commander, told media the posts were “wild” and made by “issue-motivated” groups using Defence’s involvement as a “prop”.
About 85 ADF personnel are assisting police and health workers in and around the Katherine area, 320km south of Darwin, with food deliveries to vulnerable communities and close-contact transport to testing facilities.
They are also helping police at vehicle checkpoints.
Traditional owners in Binjari and Rockhole, 330km south of Darwin, have also weighed in, saying the battle against the virus is the “biggest fight of their lives” and the social media posts are not helping.
“We have been treated with a lot of respect and appreciate all the support being given by these support personnel,” the Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service said.
“We don’t need people out there creating another flood for us. We don’t appreciate outside people making comments that are untrue.
“People on social media saying that our people are being mistreated need to realise their comments are hurting the very people they claim to care about.”
Meanwhile, the NT detected one new case overnight after a teenager from the Binjari Aboriginal community tested positive.
Wastewater testing around the outbreak area of Katherine continues to be positive but the results are weakening.
Rockhole residents have tested negative for the virus and the Aboriginal community will move from a hard lockdown – where they were only able to leave their homes if there was an emergency – to a normal lockdown.