The Northern Territory has clinically eradicated coronavirus for the second time, but the NT Health Minister has reiterated her prediction that the jurisdiction will record more cases of the virus.
- The last confirmed case of coronavirus in the NT was diagnosed on July 31
- The Health Minister says the NT is “prepared” for more COVID-19 cases
- The hotspot declaration for Metropolitan Sydney could lift on October 9
The NT was the first Australian jurisdiction to clinically eradicate coronavirus, back in June.
To meet the definition for clinical eradication there need to be no new recorded cases for 28 days since the last recovered case of the virus.
The Northern Territory’s last case of coronavirus was confirmed on July 31, when a Darwin man who was flying from Melbourne to Darwin was told he had coronavirus in mid-flight.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles said despite eradicating the virus, the Government remained on high alert for potential future outbreaks.
“Although we have hit this clinical definition of eradication we were, and still are, aiming for a suppression strategy,” she said.
“I do believe we will see COVID-19 in the Territory, but we are well prepared to deal with that.
“In terms of the eradication, we may see cases again in the NT but we have the resources in place, the testing, the contact tracing, to keep Territorians safe, to contain and supress that outbreak.”
Ms Fyles said it was important Territorians with any symptoms of the virus, no matter how mild, continued to submit themselves for testing.
Open entry to Sydney arrivals firms
Ms Fyles backed the Government’s plan to remove the hotspot declaration for Metropolitan Sydney on October 9 if case numbers in the area continue to trend down.
The removal of the hotspot declaration would mean arrivals from Sydney would no longer need to enter 14-day mandatory supervised quarantine.
She said removing the Metropolitan Sydney hotspot could provide a major boost to tourism numbers in the Northern Territory.
“[It] would allow Territorians to visit family and friends that they may have been cut off from, and also the potential of millions more visitors coming into the Territory,” she said.
“But these border measures will be kept in place and that will be based around the clinical advice.”
Ms Fyles said 70,000 people had entered the Northern Territory since the jurisdiction reopened its borders on July 17, when the Government introduced rules barring open entry to arrivals from designated hotspot zones.
Government undecided on changing quarantine cost
Ms Fyles confirmed the Government was “looking at the cost” of the fee coronavirus hotspot arrivals are charged for quarantining in the NT, after the Chief Minister last week flagged it could be adjusted.
Currently, people arriving in the Northern Territory and undertaking mandatory quarantine are charged $2,500, and low-income earners can apply for a reduced fee.
Ms Fyles said the current quarantine charge did not cover the Government’s costs, and that weighing up where the financial burden should fall was a “complex” calculation.
“We need to remember that [the quarantine program] is in place to keep the Territory safe from coronavirus,” she said.
“The Chief Minister last week, in his comments acknowledged, that the fee we are charging people … is not reflective of the true cost, but we need to balance that up against a number of factors.
“It is a deterrent that fee, but there are Territorians that have to pay that that are going through hardship situations.”
Last week the Chief Minister also said the Government could look at discounting the cost of mandatory quarantine for NT residents returning home.
Could the Howard Springs quarantine program expand?
Asked if Darwin’s Howard Springs quarantine facility could be used to repatriate Australians stranded overseas due to coronavirus, Ms Fyles said the Government was “certainly open” to the idea.
The prospect of using the facility to quarantine international arrivals is being pushed by Federal Labor MP Luke Gosling, who has suggested Howard Springs could be a solution to “Australian citizens … being denied entry to their own country”.
Previously the Howard Springs facility has been used to quarantine Australian coronavirus evacuees from Wuhan and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, and Ms Fyles said the facility could potentially quarantine up to 2,000 more individuals.
“The NT of course is well set up, particularly with the Howard Springs facility, and we will continue with the Chief Minister to work through that at the National Cabinet level,” she said.
“There would be a lot of work to be undertaken if we were to see international flights arriving into the Northern Territory … but the NT is certainly open to that.
“We do need to be careful, as we saw from the Victorian quarantine and outbreak into that community, which has been absolutely devastating.”