The Northern Territory Government has bowed to immense anger, pressure and criticism, changing the COVID-19 rules that apply from Monday, meaning people arriving from interstate will no longer be forced to remain in Darwin, Katherine or Alice Springs for 14 days, and instead, a list of 66 banned remote communities has been created.
Acting Chief Minister Nicole Manison told a Wednesday press conference the changes were “modest” and said they had come from discussions with industry groups.
The government’s original restrictions, announced last Thursday, was met with immediate anger and disbelief from the tourism, hospitality, and pastoral industries, with Tourism Top End general manager Glen Hingley saying the businesses he represented were devastated and the government had thrown the industry into chaos.
“It has the potential to destroy all consumer confidence of the people who come here,” Mr Hingley had said.
“Effectively, regional operators have lost all their customers in the foreseeable future from December 20, and the only customers they can rely on are Territorians who haven’t been outside the Territory travelling regionally.
Ms Manison tried to downplay the reason for the changes by using the words “modest” and “productive discussion” but Opposition small business spokesperson Marie-Clare Boothby, said it was another embarrassing Labor blunder, from an impractical and unworkable plan.
“As you know, in recent days, we have been working closely with a lot of the stakeholders in the Territory to address some of the concerns that have been raised about new measures in place from December 20,” Ms Manison said.
“These have been positive, productive discussions and I thank everybody involved in them…We have been able to make some modest changes that should make a big difference.”
But Ms Boothby said the damage had been done for many tourism operators across the Territory.
“We welcome these changes – but calling them ‘modest’ is just a desperate attempt by Labor to minimise how big a blunder the initial plan was,” she said.
“If the Gunner Government had bothered consulting with the tourism and hospitality sector, farmers and Territory boarding students and their families before last week’s shock announcement, Labor wouldn’t have to concede it totally stuffed this up.
“Was the original post-December 20 plan the best health advice, or poor policy from an incompetent Chief Minister who apparently cares more about scheduling major announcements around his annual leave, than consulting with the Territorians?”
The rules still restrict entry to the NT to double vaccinated people only, and they must return a negative PCR test result in the 72 hours before entering the Territory.
Arrivals will have to have another PCR test again within the first three days and then again on day six.
Ms Manison said people would no longer be restricted to staying in Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs for the first 14 days after their arrival.
But there would now be exclusions zones, with 66 communities declared out of bounds that are below an 80 per cent COVID-19 double vaccination rate. Ms Manison did not specify if that rate was based on NT or Commonwealth vaccination figures.
She said as they as they hit 80 per cent vaccination rates communities would be taken off the list.
Residents from those communities, or essential workers and their families, who were returning from interstate will be be allowed to enter those communities but with restrictions.
They must take the PCR test before they enter the community but they do not have to wait for the result before they go into the community. They must also wear a mask for the first seven days if they cannot socially distance.
The essential workers must also have a daily rapid antigen test while in the community in their first seven days in the NT.
For people on cattle stations who can’t take a day six PCR test, they can use a rapid antigen test instead, the government said.
While Ms Manison said others could stop at roadhouses that were in the zone of one of the 66 communities, but they had to socially distance and use the Territory Check-in app.
CLICK here for a list of the excluded communities and the new rules.