UPDATED: Chief Minister Michael Gunner has declared all of Melbourne a coronavirus “hot spot” after earlier defending his decision to allow travellers from Victoria to move freely in the Territory as of July 17, as other states move to close their borders while it remains in the throes of an intense coronavirus outbreak.
Questions have been raised over why Mr Gunner is refusing to quarantine all travellers from Victoria and not just those who self-identify as being from known “hot spots” in the state.
On Monday evening, Mr Gunner announced that all of Melbourne is now considered a “hot spot” and that anyone coming from that city will have to go into 14-day quarantine, if they admit to having been there.
Mr Gunner said earlier on Monday that instead of a blanket ban or mandatory quarantine order, he will rely on the honesty of Victorians who come to the Territory to say whether they have been in an infected area – which now includes its most populated city.
“This is a trust issue, but I say to the person whose coming to our border, if you lie and don’t want to spend 14 days in a hotel room, then you face three years in a prison cell,” he told ABC Radio on Monday morning.
“It’s a statutory declaration so I would think very carefully about lying. First of all, don’t come, but if you do come, tell the truth.”
Mr Gunner said he wasn’t prepared to ban Victorians coming to the NT because of the national “suppression strategy” and the NT’s “long term sustainable plan” for dealing with coronavirus here that has yet to be fully explained to the public.
“This is a policy that is designed to stay for the long term — not just today, tomorrow, next month but also next year — we don’t know how long we are going to be in this phase, we don’t know when there will be a vaccine, or if there will be a vaccine.”
However, other states are taking more direct action by closing their borders to Victoria, including NSW that will shut the border to everyone in the state on Tuesday night. That decision was made after the premiers of both states discussed the issue with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
It follows other states including SA and Queensland that have closed their borders to Victoria until their massive outbreak is brought under control. The state recorded 127 new coronavirus cases overnight, which marks the highest daily total in the state since the start of the pandemic.
South Australia pushed back its intended July 20 border reopening date due to Victoria’s outbreak.
Late Monday, Mr Gunner said he now recognises that outbreaks of the deadly virus were occurring outside of the identified hot spots in Melbourne.
“While these outbreaks are confined to the Melbourne metropolitan area, they extend across Melbourne, making them more difficult to contain to specific suburbs,” he said.
“This means that from July 17, anyone who lives in or has visited the greater Melbourne metropolitan area will still not be permitted free access to the Northern Territory.”
This appears to contradict his earlier comments that coronavirus can be contained by a “targeted, suburb to suburb, street by street fight” as per the “long term sustainable plan”.
Territory Alliance leader Terry Mills questioned Mr Gunner’s judgement and said that all Victorians coming into the NT needed to be quarantined until the outbreak is contained. Lifting the quarantining rules for Victoria travellers on July 17 is premature, he added.
“Territory Alliance has been consistent, open borders immediately to states such as WA, SA and Tasmania with low to no COVID-19,” Mr Mills said. “Now that Victoria is sadly experiencing a spike, people visiting from there should go into two weeks isolation at their dedicated address.
“Anyone breaching should go to the Howard Springs facility. We welcome visitors, we need family reunification, but let’s do it sensibly with health protections in place.”
Mr Gunner’s office did not respond to questions.
CLP Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro said she supported Mr Gunner’s move to quarantine only those who self-identify as being from hot spot areas after July 17.
NT Police issued seven more infringement notices for breaching quarantine over the weekend, but have now stopped disclosing where the quarantine violators are coming from. Police say 117 infringement notices have been issued Territory-wide during the pandemic.
Victoria has now recorded 416 cases of COVID-19 acquired from unknown sources, including 145 in the week to Monday. The state’s number of active cases has risen by 357 to 645 over the same period. Of Victoria’s total 2660 cases, 2307 have been in metropolitan Melbourne and 260 in regional Victoria.