Chief Minister Michael Gunner has announced his five-point plan for how the Territory will respond to COVID-19 once 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated, which will see non-vaccinated Territorians restricted from the same freedoms vaccinated people will enjoy, with workers in many fields including hospitality and retail forced to get the jab.
Mr Gunner made the announcement after pressure from industry groups that called for a plan rather than more lockdowns across the NT.
Mr Gunner said the plan will be executed once the NT reaches 80 per cent vaccination rate, which he estimated could be achieved by “early November”.
However, even at a vaccine rate of 80 per cent, Mr Gunner said there could still be lockdowns or what he called a “lock-out”.
Under a “lock-out”, vaccinated people will be permitted to work, go shopping, play sports and go to bars and restaurants provided they wear a mask.
“There may be some internal travel restrictions – to ensure people from an outbreak area don’t cross into other areas. But for vaccinated people – life will continue almost as usual,” Mr Gunner said.
“For those people who can get vaccinated but choose not to, you will be locked out of these freedoms – and only permitted to leave your home for the five reasons.
“Because you will be most at risk of getting the virus when it’s in the community, most at risk of getting seriously sick, and most at risk of passing the infection on to others.”
Mr Gunner said his government was working with other governments to “get this technology ready” that he said would ensure vaccinated people without access to apps or QRT codes can “still have a Freedom Pass”.
There were no further details provided about the “freedom pass”.
Mandatory vaccines for workers in “high-risk environments”, including hospitality, retail staff, under order of CHO
He added that vaccines will be mandatory for workers in “high-risk” environments, including those working with vulnerable people, which would see the NT usher in “Australia’s strongest vaccination plan”.
Those forced to get vaccinated will include anyone working with vulnerable people or children, including frontline health and emergency workers and those who work in remote communities.
It will also include supermarket, retail and hospitality workers, Mr Gunner said.
Others forced to get the jab will include quarantine and border control workers, as well as those who work in pharmacies and GP clinics, and anyone who works in essential infrastructure, supply or logistics.
“A legal direction will be issued by the Chief Health Officer that makes it mandatory for people working in these environments to be vaccinated against COVID-19 – from a certain date, which will be determined at the time,” Mr Gunner said.
“An unvaccinated employee will be prevented from working in certain environments unless they are vaccinated by a certain date. An employer will be prevented from allowing employees to work in certain environments unless that are vaccinated by that date.”
Border changes: Red, orange and green zones to be introduced
Border changes will see the government move away from the current “hot spots” policy to three types of travel categories that will be based on whether a traveller is vaccinated or not.
All arrivals from green zones – any place that is not a designated COVID-19 hot spot – will be permitted access to the Territory regardless of vaccination status, similar to the current rule.
Arrivals from an orange zone – an area identified as a “low-level” COVID risk – will be required to self-quarantine at home or in “another suitable location” if they are vaccinated and can leave quarantine once they return a negative result.
Red zone travellers – those arriving from an area declared as a COVID hot spot – will no longer have to quarantine at Howard Springs or the Todd facility in Alice Springs and will be required to quarantine at home or in “another suitable location” for 14 days.
If a traveller from an orange or red zone is not vaccinated they will be banned from entering the NT, unless they have been pre-approved to travel home or for essential work purposes.
Remote communities’ movements restricted if vax rates don’t improve
Mr Gunner said getting as many Territorians as vaccinated as possible would help keep remote communities safe but added that if some communities cannot meet a high vaccination rate, “we may need to look at other options to restrict movement in and out of those communities”.
“If, when we are ready to take the next steps as part of the National holding back Plan, there are a handful of communities where the vaccination rate remains low, despite all the efforts of government, land councils and health services – That will not stop the Territory’s progress,” Mr Gunner said.
“We cannot wait forever to move forward, because one or two communities are.
“Our focus will now be on working with local leaders, land councils, and health services to lift the numbers everywhere.
Government still pondering ways to better protect NT children
Mr Gunner said the government is still “doing more work on how we protect our kids”.
“Obviously our work on making the vaccine mandatory for high-risk environments is a massive part of that – and it will make the biggest difference,” he said.
“But we are exploring other options too – such as ventilation solutions in schools.
“Random testing for people who are in places frequented by young kids – like schools and sports competitions – is under consideration.”