The federal government was warned 18 months ago of the urgent need to protect the Covid-hit town of Wilcannia, leaked correspondence seen by Guardian Australia shows, with an Aboriginal health service pleading for immediate help at the time to prevent an outbreak.

The Maari Ma Aboriginal health corporation wrote to the Indigenous Australians minister, Ken Wyatt, in March 2020, outlining “grave fears” for the far western New South Wales town if Covid were to spread to the vulnerable population there.

“Warnings from around the world are clear: the earlier we prepare and act, the better the outcomes will be. We cannot wait until the first case turns up in the community, or worse, the first hospital case presents,” the letter said.

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