Workers and residents entering remote Aboriginal communities in the NT will need to wear a mask and be tested for COVID-19, effective from next Monday, following continued low vaccination rates in many communities, Chief Minister Michael Gunner has ordered.
The additional public health measures are meant to “reduce the risk of COVID-19 incursion for remote communities” where less than 70 per cent of the population has had one vaccine dose.
The new rules were mandated after the Doherty Institute modelling released by the National Cabinet on Monday set a higher benchmark for remote communities, with the previous 80 per cent double dose target extended to include people aged five to 11.
But this won’t happen until the TGA approved vaccination for children aged five and up is available which Mr Gunner said would most likely not happen until next year.
Many remote communities in the NT have fallen far short of reaching the 80 per cent double dose target to date, even before children as young as five were included in the new targets.
“We still have a critical task ahead of us to push these rates up, which we will continue to do,” Mr Gunner said.
“Everyone in every remote community has had a chance to be vaccinated and we will keep working to get them to choose getting vaccinated.”
Mr Gunner has ordered that any workers going into any remote communities must have their first dose by November 12 and second dose by December 24.
Beginning on Monday, November 15, any worker or resident who enters a remote community from Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine or a location outside of the Territory, must wear a mask for seven days at all times in public.
Workers or residents also need to return a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before entering a remote community from November 19.
“The mask mandate and the rapid antigen direction will apply to 25 of 52 communities managed by NT Health, and the 29 ACCHO controlled communities in the Northern Territory – who have yet to disclose their vaccination status to the NT Government,” the government said in a statement.
It added that Land Councils, AMSANT and other stakeholders are being “briefed” on the Doherty modelling. The government did not specify if there were adequate consultations done on these mandates.
Mr Gunner said the Doherty Institute modelling showed that at 80 per cent fully vaxxed, the NT’s health system can handle 30-100 cases of COVID-19 a day.
“The predicted peak ICU demand under such a scenario is six beds at any one time,” he said.
“It shows that we can cope within existing capacity.”