Faced with increased pressure to immediately block Victoria and NSW residents from entering the NT due to outbreaks and clusters of coronavirus in those states, Health Minister Natasha Fyles said Tuesday that the Gunner Government will sleep on it.
Ms Fyles said the government may make an announcement to potentially declare areas of NSW a hotspot – meaning restricted access to the NT for those arriving as of Friday – but not until tomorrow at the earliest.
In the meantime, people from NSW can still enter the NT and will only be under self-quarantine until Friday when the Gunner Government lifts its border restrictions. According to the policy, Victorians can still enter the NT but will be put into supervised quarantine for 14 days – but only after July 17.
The government has rejected calls to put in stronger restrictions before Friday, even as Queensland and SA made adjustments to their border openings in response to the outbreak in NSW.
“The Chief Minister and the chief health officer and I will be briefed overnight and we expect to make an announcement around New South Wales tomorrow, noting that we are seeing a change in the border restrictions this Friday,” Ms Fyles said. “And so we certainly are watching that very closely.”
The government has also been forced to defend their low COVID-19 testing rates, with Territory Alliance leader Terry Mills calling the government’s current rates “reckless” and “disgraceful”. National figures show the NT has the lowest rate of COVID-19 testing per capita at 6.93 per cent compared to the national average of 12.1 per cent.
“Allowing people into the Territory from states like Victoria without testing is reckless,” Mr Mills said. “Our position in terms of COVID-19 low rates looks more like luck than good policy by the Chief Minister.”
Calls to keep NSW travellers out of the NT for now
Mr Mills joined the Australia Medical Association NT to call on the NT Government to impose strict quarantine regulations to travellers from New South Wales similar to those that apply to travellers from Victoria when the NT borders reopen on Friday.
AMA NT president Robert Parker told the ABC that the borders should be closed to NSW for at least two weeks until the issues around the Casula cluster that led to 21 active cases can be further understood.
“It’s a very dangerous situation to be so confident about opening borders where there could be a significant increase in the virus transmission,” Dr Parker said.
“We’ve been very lucky with what happened in the Territory. It’s going to be a significant issue with social distancing, hygiene. The problem could be that people would go wandering around the city.”
Mr Mills said testing of travellers from NSW, Victoria and the ACT should be undertaken prior to them visiting the Territory.
“Only those with a negative test should be allowed in,” he said. “Travellers from those states should then take another COVID-19 test prior to being able to move throughout our community.”
Ms Fyles said the Health Department tested more than 2,000 people for coronavirus last week and that anyone who feels ill should get tested.
“It’s inappropriate to compare jurisdictions where you have got a crisis, you’ve got an outbreak, community transmission, hundreds of cases,” Ms Fyles said. “We will continue to test based on clinical advice.”
But Mr Mills said the figures show the NT well behind Tasmania and WA, which have also not had any clusters in some time.
“The NT testing rate for COVID-19 is a little over half that of the national average rate of testing and this is disgraceful,” he said. “Isolation and testing is needed to protect Territorians.”
Calls for increased fines for breaching quarantine
According to NSW Health, there are 3,316 total cases and 13 new cases in that state as of Tuesday, while there are 113 total cases in ACT with only five active cases, to date according to ACT Health.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner earlier said that NSW was “on his radar” and its residents might also be blocked because of the “porous” borders between the two most populous states, but a decision is not expected until tomorrow.
Mr Mills also recommended increasing the quarantine noncompliance fines to $5,000 from $1,106 for individuals and $20,000 from $5,530 for businesses, after repeated incidents of people violating quarantine orders in recent weeks, including some who were repeat offenders.
“The fact should not be lost that prior to COVID-19 the Territory was in an economic crisis and COVID-19 has only made this worse,” Mr Mills said. “We cannot risk another lock-down and the devastating effects this will have on our economy.”