Ten new cases of COVID-19 reported in the NT over the last two days in people from the global coronavirus hotspot of India has raised questions about the government’s ability to take over managing the international side of the Howard Springs facility, as Health Minister Natasha Fyles admitted it is nowhere close to hiring the staff needed.
Four cases reported yesterday included two children on board an April 17 flight from New Delhi. Today’s reported six new cases, including others from the New Delhi flight and another on the April 15 Chennai flight, brings the total to 89 COVID-19 positive cases from international repatriation with the majority of those in passengers from India.
The recent outbreak in India, which has seen its number soar in recent days, has raised further questions about the NT Government’s ability to manage the international section of the quarantine facility.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the government had only recruited 70 staff to operate the international wing of the Howard Springs facility, nearly one month after signing a $500 million agreement with the Federal Government to take over.
Ms Fyles had previously said the government would need to hire 400 staff, but in Parliament last month she revealed that number had increased to 500. To date, they’ve only recruited 70.
She said yesterday the NT Government would not take over operations until such time as they could prove it was “clinically safe”, but gave no indication of when that might be.
The agreement was to see the number of repatriated Australians accepted to the facility increased from 850 to 2,000 per fortnight.
It’s unclear what effect the increasing number of COVID-19 carriers from India will have on the plans.
On Saturday, the global coronavirus death toll passed the latest grim milestone of three million people, with India now leading the world in the number of new cases with more than two million in the past month.
The world’s second-most populous nation recorded 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths on Saturday alone.
India has three times the daily cases of the United States, the world’s worst-hit nation, according to global media wires.
The International Red Cross described the speed at which cases are rising across South Asia as “truly frightening”.
Meanwhile, an immunology expert in the UK is urging its government to ban travel to India over a “terribly concerning” COVID-19 variant.
Professor Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told The Independent that he was worried that the variant could “scupper” Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Public Health England (PHE) has reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant, first detected in India, have been found in England, as well as four cases in Scotland.
Professor Altmann said it is likely that the Indian variant would be escalated to a “variant of concern” as it has properties that make it “more evasive to current vaccines and more transmissible”.
“I think we should be terribly concerned about it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s PM.
Some countries like Hong Kong have recently imposed travel bans from other Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and the Philippines after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub on Sunday classifying them as “extremely high risk”.