Northern Territorians are hitting the roads, pools and sportsgrounds in droves today for the beginning of one of Australia’s first widespread wind-backs of coronavirus restrictions.
- The Northern Territory has not had any community transmission of coronavirus
- The NT is going further with easing restrictions than most other jurisdictions
- NT Police say people need to keep following social distancing rules
Under the NT’s “new normal” roadmap, from midday today people in the NT were able to camp in some of the area’s national parks and reserves, as well as visit public swimming pools, waterparks, go fishing with friends and play golf.
From 8:00am this morning along the usually quiet road into Litchfield National Park, about 115 kilometres from Darwin, cars began to line up in preparation for the park’s midday opening.
NT Police were ready and waiting with random breath tests and warnings to comply with social distancing regulations.
Glenn Gilbert and his son William left Darwin early to get to the park and their car was first in the queue.
Mr Gilbert said he had been worried about the well-being of his son who had been “cooped up” in an apartment for weeks and had been so worried about coronavirus he had not wanted to go out.
“We’re just having lots of fun and it’s his first camping trip ever — he’s going to have an absolute ball.
Mr Gilbert said it was great the park was opening up for the long weekend and he hoped everyone would be sensible so authorities could continue easing restrictions.
“If this weekend goes really well and everyone basically abides by the rules and keeps their distance, Darwin can have a good time and open up,” he said.
“That will be the best outcome for Darwin, just as long as everyone is sensible about everything.”
Within 30 minutes of the Parap Swimming pool opening, more than 20 people were ready to hit the water.
Zoe Mathers, who swam three times a week at Parap before the pool closed, greeted staff with a familiar smile and said she was thrilled to be back.
“We’ve got a puppy, so I’ve been walking her, but I’ve put on about five kilograms so I haven’t been doing much else,” she said.
People looking forward to ‘getting back out’
Lifeguards and pool staff were stationed throughout the pool grounds with hand sanitiser, ready to explain to patrons the rules around social distancing.
Pool manager Calum Eastwood said staff had been marking the pool area to ensure people stayed 1.5 metres away from each other and he said cleaning frequency had increased.
“We’re asking Territorians to work with us,” he said.
Alice Springs local Michelle Sawyer had the first tee off at the Alice Springs golf course today.
She and two others waited by the edge of the first hole for the regulation relaxations to kick in and teed off just seconds after midday.
“It feels good but its been a long time — not my best [shot],” she said after taking her first hit.
She said she already had another game booked for Sunday.
Territory’s position a ‘privilege’
NT Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie said the Territory’s move would be a test case for the nation.
“We are ahead of other parts of Australia and indeed, the world. Uncharted territory,” he said.
Dr Heggie begged Territorians to prove they were an example for the nation to follow.
“Please, please, please continue to follow the principles, the very important principles, based on science and evidence,” he said.
“This weekend, enjoy yourselves, take care. But please follow the principles, don’t do a Bondi.
NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said the freedom residents could now enjoy was a “rare opportunity” and said NT Police would be out over the weekend to ensure no-one was flouting the rules.
“It’s certainly a privilege that we are able to move into this position so I just really encourage everyone to treat it as such,” he said.
“The ability for us to be able to contain COVID-19 and its spread, more importantly, in the Territory is a significant achievement but it is not a time to rest on laurels.
“There is a lot that has been done and now is not the time for apathy.
He said there were still concerns over the possibility of a second wave of the virus coming in to the NT, if the ongoing restrictions were not followed.
“There is a lot of nervousness, as you can appreciate, about the fact that in other places in the world where restrictions have been modified or lifted there has been second waves that have come,” he said.
“That is certainly something that has been considered in our planning to try and ensure it is mitigated but at the end of the day, unless the community come with us on that and respect the principles then it will all be for nothing.
Mr Chalker said NT Police would be ready to caution and arrest people for breaking the existing rules.
“Our message is one of education and to seek compliance — we don’t want to move to a sanction-based posture early,” he said.
“If it escalates to a point where there is just an outright belligerence towards respecting how to approach COVID-19 mitigation then we would certainly consider taking sanctions via the means of infringements.
“We can also come to the provision of arrest, but that is something we would only consider as a last resort.”