Australian and foreign military officials and their families on board an international flight scheduled to land in Darwin today will quarantine at an undisclosed local hotel instead of the international quarantine facility at Howard Springs, the NT Independent can reveal.
Sources with knowledge of the situation said the plane from Singapore carrying roughly 250 people includes Australian diplomats and their families returning from globally recognised COVID-19 high-risk regions across Europe and Asia.
It’s understood the move to circumvent established protocol and permit the officials and their families to quarantine in a local hotel rather than at the nationally-recognised Howard Springs quarantine facility has irked some NT health officials, who have raised concerns over the potential for community transmission by abandoning the procedures for international arrivals that have so far proven successful.
“There’s a large number of people concerned about why this decision was made,” a source with knowledge of the situation told the NT Independent.
“These people [on the flight] should be quarantined at the appropriate facilities. There’s more than enough room for them all at the Howard Springs facility. Hotel quarantine increases risks [of community transmission]. We’ve all seen what has happened interstate.”
Recently released NT Government figures indicate that roughly 500 – 600 people are currently at the Howard Springs facility, that can hold up to 3,500 people. The facility was split up for domestic and international arrivals in October, when the Federal Government approved the use of the facility for repatriation flights.
The deal to allow international repatriation flights to Darwin also included an undisclosed amount of federal cash for running the facility.
The NT has recorded 47 coronavirus-positive cases among repatriated Aussies at the facility since October, with the majority of those from the UK and India. All of the NT’s recorded cases have been from interstate or international arrivals and the NT has thus far not reported a single case of community transmission.
ADF says flight is part of ‘international training for military partners’; hotel signed off by chief health officer Hugh Heggie
The ADF released a statement Sunday evening, following questions from the NT Independent, claiming Monday’s flight is part of the Australian Defence College’s “limited international training for foreign military partners in 2021” that will see “foreign military officials and any dependents” arrive in Darwin to “undertake quarantine, before continuing on to their ultimate posting locations in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria”.
“The arrival of foreign military officials, and their dependants, is being primarily facilitated by Defence and will not affect international arrival caps for returning Australians,” the statement said.
“Defence has consulted extensively with the Northern Territory Government and its Chief Health Officer to facilitate this important program, as well as the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs and our partners overseas.”
It’s unclear why Hugh Heggie approved the hotel quarantine for the ADF and foreign military personnel when the Howard Springs facility is currently operating at only a small fraction of its capacity.
The ADF statement said that all “foreign military officials and dependents” would be subject to the “stringent quarantine provisions undertaken by other international arrivals, including 14 days of mandatory supervised quarantine and the requirement to return a negative COVID-19 exit test result in order to receive clearance for release from quarantine by NT Health”.
The cost to NT Health to monitor those in hotel quarantine was not disclosed. A Defence spokeswoman said the department would provide further details around the logistics of supervised quarantine at the undisclosed hotel on Monday.
The NT Government and its health authorities do not respond to the NT Independent’s questions.