NT to open borders on July 17 with coronavirus clinically eradicated

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner says he will open the NT’s borders from July 17, as the Territory becomes the first Australian jurisdiction to have clinically eradicated coronavirus.

The decision to end mandatory quarantine means visitors will not need to self-isolate for 14 days after entering the NT.

The NT Government eased the requirement for visitors to enter mandatory hotel quarantines, at a cost of $2,500, earlier this week.

“Based on the evidence, our Chief Health Officer recommends a 28-day assessment period before opening our borders — which is two COVID-19 replication cycles. That is why we are waiting until next month,” Mr Gunner said in a statement.

“This gives the rest of Australia four weeks’ notice, and it gives the Territory four weeks to get ready. It gives us time to market the Territory to visitors,” he said.

The Chief Minister’s announcement came after the Government said last week that it would be monitoring rates of community transmission around the country after thousands of people gathered over the weekend for Black Lives Matter rallies.

Mr Gunner credited the NT’s policy of hard borders with saving thousands of lives.

“Territorians didn’t die. Everywhere else, people died. Not here, not in the Territory. But at the start, that was no sure thing, the worst-case scenario had 2,000 people being killed from coronavirus,” he said.

“It had us needing hundreds of ICU beds which do not exist. Which is why we prepared more body bags in case the nightmare scenario became real.”

The NT is the first Australian jurisdiction to have eradicated the coronavirus and has recorded 28 days since the last case recovered from the virus.

The last case was a member of the Australian Defence Force who had tested positive after serving overseas and who was cleared of the virus on May 21.

It comes after a similar decision by South Australia to reopen to travellers from WA, the NT and Tasmania.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said NT Police and members of the Australian Defence Force would continue to man borders for two weeks after July 17.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

AMA against NT border decision

The decision goes against the wishes of the Australian Medical Association, who wanted the NT’s borders to remain closed until coronavirus was eradicated across Australia.

The NT’s AMA Branch President Dr Robert Parker said while he sympathised with people who had lost their livelihoods during the pandemic, the virus could still easily spread throughout the NT.

“If anyone comes to the Territory and goes to communities, we could have lots of really sick people,” he said.

“Aboriginal people have already got much higher rates of diseases — cardiac, respiratory — and a lot more very sick and dead people could come then from this transmission.”

But Mr Gunner said he was making the decision based on the medical advice of his Chief Health Officer, Dr Hugh Heggie.

“Dr Heggie’s advice, based on the evidence, recommends a 28-day assessment cycle, two replication cycles, before making this major change.”

“We need this time to be absolutely certain that self-quarantine is safe before we move to no quarantine. I am not gambling, I am not rolling the dice, I am not playing poker with the lives of Territorians,” he said.

Defence and Police to stay at border

The NT Government confirmed that both local police and the Australian Defence Force would continue to man border posts and all arrival areas for two weeks after the quarantine ended in July.

“For this period, people will still complete the arrival form, telling us where they have come from and where they intend to stay and this gives us an extra layer of protection,” Mr Gunner said.

Mr Gunner also said that a dedicated rapid response team was ready to manage any outbreaks across the NT, if they occurred.

“If there is ever an outbreak in the NT, this team will be on the ground straight away and the community will be quarantined while the situation is assessed and controlled,” he said.

The NT Government will also keep its public health emergency declaration in place, giving it extra powers.

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Wuhan’s mass testing blitz might have eradicated the coronavirus

Wuhan authorities said they found no new cases of “silent spreaders” for the first time in nearly two months as the city’s aggressive push to test its entire population appears to have succeeded in breaking hidden chains of transmission.

Of the 60,000 people tested on Sunday, no cases of asymptomatic infections were found, said the Wuhan municipal health commission on Monday. In an ambitious effort to guard against a resurgence of cases, Wuhan is testing its entire 11 million population for the virus and has found some 200 asymptomatic cases in the past two weeks.

The presence of infected people who show no outward signs of being sick but can nonetheless infect others has been an obstacle in worldwide efforts to contain the coronavirus, and a major reason why the pandemic spread so widely and quickly. In countries where testing remains inadequate, there is no way to detect such carriers and isolate them before they infect others.

In identifying the city’s asymptomatic carriers, Wuhan’s testing blitz could allow the city where the virus first emerged to eradicate the pathogen from its population. But its method is likely out of reach for other countries and even bigger Chinese cities as it requires a massive mobilization of resources and the full cooperation of residents.

Wuhan-dwellers were likely more willing to come forward for testing given the scars that the epidemic has left on the embattled city, which was sealed off for almost three months to contain the virus’s spread even as its local medical system nearly collapsed under the strain of the outbreak. Of China’s over 4,600 reported Covid-19 deaths, about 80% were in Wuhan.

Many countries, from developing ones like India and Indonesia to western nations like the U.S. and U.K., are still struggling to provide tests for everyone with symptoms, not to mention those without.

During the mass testing process, Wuhan found several dozen asymptomatic cases on a daily basis. The number has tapered down to single digits as testing came to an end, according to daily data released by the local health commission.

Despite having wrested its epidemic under control, China remains on high alert for sporadic infections which run the risk of a causing secondary outbreaks. A city in its northeastern province of Heilongjiang halted most of its train services last week after five asymptomatic cases were reported on a single day.

In nearby provinces Jilin and Liaoning, a cluster of over 40 infections caused authorities to levy lockdown measures over a region of 100 million people. How that cluster began remains a mystery.

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