Coronavirus strategies in the bush still a work in progress


“Details of remote community plans are still being worked out.”
That is the answer from SecureNT to questions from the Alice Springs News about what appears to be the elephant in the room in the quest for preventing a Coronavirus outbreak: Overcrowding, poor hygiene and inadequate health facilities in remote communities.
A spokesperson for SecureNT says “there are currently no cases in Alice Springs” and a strategy for the bush is still a work in progress.
These are the questions we asked:–
• If the virus enters a remote a community of (say) 300 people, how many people are likely to be infected within three days?
• How many people are likely to be in touch with the infected person(s) and consequently require two weeks’ isolation quarantine?
• How many small communities have the medical facilities to cope with the care requirements?
• How many small communities have the medical facilities to cope with the quarantine requirements?
• Are there processes for isolating these communities? If so, how would they work?
• Are there measures in place to stop people from leaving these communities and if so, what are they?
• For people requiring quarantine but are either unwilling or unable to self-quarantine, what measures are in place?
• How many places are there in Alice Springs for (a) treating infected people and (b) quarantining people for two weeks?
UPDATE March 15
The Northern Land Council (NLC) will not be issuing permits for travel to land in the Northern Territory over which it has control, in a bid to protect the area from the Coronavirus.
The NLC constituency has about 36,000 Aboriginal residents, 80% of them living in regional and remote areas in about 200 communities ranging in size from small family outstations to communities with populations of about 3000 people.
The NLC said today: “COVID-19 – Suspension of all permits to enter Aboriginal land for non-essential travel.
“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic all non-essential travel to Aboriginal communities is to be avoided.
“The NLC has determined that all existing non-essential permits to Top End Aboriginal communities will be suspended and no new non-essential travel permits will be granted until further notice.”
Only two days ago the NT Government has declared “NT Borders are not closing”. Now a significant part of the NT is off-limits except for its residents and people performing essential functions.
UPDATE March 15, 4.50pm
Chief Minister Michael Gunner released the following statement:
There is no community spread of the virus in the Territory to date. The National Cabinet resolved to enact a series of measures effective from midnight tonight, enforceable by Federal, State and Territory law:
• There will be a universal precautionary self-isolation requirement of 14 days for all international arrivals. This requirement will stay in place until further notice.
• The Federal Government will ban cruise ships for an initial period of 30 days.
• Static non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people will be prevented. This requirement will stay in place until further notice.
SecureNT will provide a risk assessment tool that businesses and organisations can use to judge the clinical risk associated with an event.
Government schools across the NT will remain open.
UPDATE March 16, 5.30pm
Parrtjima – A Festival in Light, scheduled for April 3 to 12has been rescheduled to September 2020.
UPDATE March 17, 2am
The Central Land Council (CLC) has “appealed” to everyone to protect vulnerable Territorians by suspending all non-essential visits to remote communities.
Last week the CLC invalidated all permits already granted to people who had been to any of the countries covered by Australian Government travel advisories in the previous fortnight.
UPDATE March 18, 4am
Donna Ah Chee, Congress CEO, provided the following statement:
Congress currently has an ample supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for our current needs and this includes more than 8000 masks.
It is well known that the supply Australia wide is not enough to meet our needs if this pandemic gets out of control and this is a significant concern and reinforces the need to do everything possible to prevent a large scale outbreak.
These masks are only for use by health professionals and patients who are being assessed or have been tested and awaiting their results.
They have no role to protect the general population as social distancing is what is needed and hand washing with soap for 20 seconds.
Congress are being supplied PPE by Northern Territory PHN and have received two deliveries in the last week with our latest supply picked up today.  At this stage Northern Territory PHN are only supplying medical and dental practices and chemists (for staff use only).
As of today, there are still no confirmed cases of COVID – 19 in Alice Springs [only one in the NT] although, tragically, exponential rises are occurring elsewhere in Australia and in other parts of the world.
Congress will continue advocating for additional measures to minimise the risk of infection to all people living in Central Australia and the Northern Territory as this is the most effective way to stop the virus spreading to the most vulnerable people in our community.
We hope the National Cabinet approves a far reaching proposal that will dramatically reduce the risk of this virus to the Northern Territory.


  1. It is not a joke. The issue of the Coronavirus in Aboriginal communities is a time bomb waiting to go off.
    Plainly speaking, anyone who has lived or visited Aboriginal communities know that overpopulation, poor hygiene and diseases such as scabies, lice, sever flus and coughing fits, especially in winter flu months in these areas, would see that the Coronavirus would be devastating.
    We are now on the start of the tourist season in Central Australia.
    Uluru has had huge numbers of Chinese tourists come in the last few years.
    Not just Chinese tourists but caravaners to the average tourist from overseas wanting to see our beautiful Central Australia.
    If there are cases of Coronavirus detected in our local area as a result then built up areas such as Alice Springs and surrounding areas will see a danger to the elderly, sickly and infants.
    This is a serious issue. We need to be prepared. I wonder if Labor Minister for Territory Families Ms Wakefield is aware?
    Therefore, with tourists coming from around Australia and the globe mixing with local Aboriginal people who are very transient could see elderly and sick Aboriginal people suffer deaths en masse.
    It maybe a case of lock down in communities that is required to protect Aboriginal people and their health. Babies are also susceptible to the Coronavirus. This may need the NT Police to step in and secure the areas.
    On the effect on businesses: I feel very sorry for local Alice Springs businesses that rely on tourism this year. Fiscal mismanagement by the Labor Party has already made the Territory economically bankrupt and the Coronavirus is just devastating to business generally.
    The NT Government is borrowing to stay afloat and has no funds to that could make any real difference to local business.
    It is time to really think about where you purchase goods and services and make a conscience decision to support local businesses.
    If you have disposable income take a local tour and enjoy our beautiful desert areas from a different viewpoint.
    Buy local wherever you can and wash your hands regularly as per the Australian Chief Medical Officer advice.

  2. It’s obvious to me it will reach communities and will travel fast and widespread due to conditions and habits.

  3. No cases in Alice Springs?
    What testing supports that statement?
    There is a dangerous complacency in the NT.
    There will be little or no Aboriginal community compliance with the disease control requirements.
    It is not possible to enforce quarantining or the flow of community members in and out of their communities.
    People won’t travel to a funeral because of the risk of infection?
    Communities cannot isolate themselves even if they say they will do this.
    They must be isolated as far as possible from Alice Springs by such measures as shutting down the Bush Bus service, closing down schools with remote students etc.
    If the infection rate spikes many residents will not be able to get adequate medical support and there will be more deaths than if the virus spreads slowly.
    We must be proactive and not wait until there is a crisis.

  4. Tick tick BANG. Gunner and the crew need to stand up now. Road closures, prison shut down, leave the bush busses in the yard and a dozen other things.
    Gunner needs to commandeer some TV and radio time and show us he is a leader tell us his plan. And where is Seldom Seen Snowden in all this, self isolating in Canberra perhaps.

  5. What action is the Central Land Council in this time of Coronavirus Pandemic taking to aid people they gate keep?

  6. It’s going to be a disaster for communities. Inadequate health facilities, tyranny of distance and lack of basic infection control knowledge, overcrowding in dwellings and lack of access to suggested supplies e.g. disinfectants and water, suggest a health tragedy of mammoth proportions if communities are not adequately protected and supported.

  7. For many activists their primary goal is to maintain separation and dependencies of our families in rural and remote communities, delaying learning skills we all need to improve our own lives in our wider, modern, and far more comfortable, world.
    The corporate Land Owner Trust(s) exclude themselves from being held responsible and accountable for living conditions they as the corporate land owners are responsible for.
    Communities are obtaining housing, radio, and TV.
    Communities need to use internet to educate themselves.
    Reducing public group close contact, better general cleaning, provision and regular use of soap are essential.
    We do not need treat everyone like idiots.
    Those identified as infected need be isolated within caring environments.
    COVID-19 aka Coronavirus is spreading, most who get it will have it mild.
    Our goal is to reduce number of deaths while it spreads.
    Our most at risk are a small section of our population.
    We need educate those at risk, and assist them.
    For those with serious risk, required is lesser contact with others.
    We need reduce deaths whilst we build up an immunity.
    Social distancing does not requiring being locked away, being “managed” to deny you your right for family, relations, others to visit you when you want.
    Those who fail their own basic self-management are those most likely to be forcibly managed.

  8. I was in touch with Ananagu friends living on remote communities on the weekend.
    They are scared, really terrified that the virus will cause deaths in their extended families.
    But they have no idea what the risk factors are, who is especially vulnerable etc.
    Even worse they say they have heard nothing locally about how to protect themselves.
    I gave them some basic advice and they were thankful but I was left wondering whether information is getting through on the ground in remote communities.

  9. The only way to protect the bush and the towns is to put the NT in lock down.
    If Europe can lock down 100 million people and 10,180,000 square kilometres, it should be easy to lock down 245,869 people and 1,420,970 square kilometres.

  10. @ Evelyne: Yes so how would we do that?
    My thoughts:
    Shut down the Bush Bus service.
    Defer non serious medical appointments at the hospital from bush community residents.
    Treat sick residents in their communities unless they have life threatening illnesses.
    Confine Yirara students to the College grounds and cease taking new enrolments from communities.
    The prison should be locked down with new arrivals and exiting prisoners tested for the virus.

  11. @ Jack: I was not talking about isolating Alice Springs from the bush communities.
    It should not be too hard to close Port Darwin, all airports and block the roads to isolate the NT to avoid more cases to enter it.

  12. Taking bitter societal medicine.
    This is about community safety. We suffer some of the worst influenzas in these areas each winter and it’s from some in the community who rough sleep in our Todd River and other areas.
    I have seen suffering from highly virulent influenza that have caused deaths to elderly, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. We pass it off by saying he or she died from old age or respiratory issues, but not saying how they were infected in the first instance.
    From personal experience, I had not had the flu for many years, but being exposed to an Aboriginal fellow who apologised to me and advised me that he slept on the verandah area on concrete at his uncle’s house in the middle of winter. This made him sick with the influenza.
    He smelt like smoke from the front yard fire and was continually spitting out green mucous near me as we performed our work.
    The next day I became very ill and feverish, it took a month for me to get over this influenza and was the worst I had ever experienced in my life. The fever and painful spasms were horrendous and it would have easily killed a sick elderly person.
    I am fit and healthy, do not smoke or drink alcohol and under 60, so what does this mean to the elderly who may have health issues?
    I would expect this to have been happening for many years in the NT, but now with the Coronavirus it is clear we need to understand that we need to face the reality of this serious outbreak.
    If not we will see something not seen before, funerals by the dozen or more that should not have happened.
    Simple fact is Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine in particular, the elderly are at serious risk, meaning death from Aboriginal people who are not educated in following best hygiene practices required to stop the Coronavirus from spreading around the NT.
    Take the politics out of the issue and facing the facts will be a challenge for government and the community generally. It is not about panicking or politicking, but either we keep accepting the status quo or we do something to save our sickly, elderly and infants that we would otherwise have had a prolonged life.
    Will this Labor NT government be able to face the reality?
    I think not.
    Aboriginal people will still travel, taking back roads and avoiding advice.
    We arrived here because of activists who will do their best to keep Aboriginal people uneducated in the money spin cycle. I blame these insidious people for the plight of both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people in this time of a health crisis.
    Therefore, let us learn from this when it is over and remember how activists using Aboriginal people as a source of illegitimate income, who indeed falsely politicise Aboriginal education. Common sense needs to be applied to raise Aboriginal people out of abject poverty.
    It will be then up to Aboriginal people to enter society educated and with dignity.

  13. What about closing the borders around NT?
    Have those closed for a month or two, no traffic but freight coming through. and when the freight gets packed have people with all the [precautions] for the time we are in.
    Other places around the world are doing the right thing.
    We need to follow other places with this because it is only a matter of time before someone with this stuff casually drives over the border from any state.
    We’re in the middle of the continent. The police usually stop everything else like drugs and alcohol in and out all the time. See them at the border breath testing. Have cov19 test as well.

  14. CAAC, one of the frontline medical services for treating COVID-19 in the bush, has fewer than 10 face masks. Staff and patients are at incredible risk.
    This should be a bigger story.

  15. Yes Local, especially the buses from Adelaide: 52 passengers breathing the same air and the independent travellers from WA.

  16. @ Evelyne. We can’t keep the virus out or prevent around 70% of the NT population from being infected.
    What we need to do is slow the spread of the infection so our health system is not overwhelmed.
    If it is overwhelmed the most vulnerable, the elderly and sick will die in large numbers.
    Once in bush communities the virus will spread very quickly with a high morbidity and mortality.
    It would be better for everyone if we could keep it out of communities for as long as possible.
    An ideal scenario would be for the virus to gradually infect people living here in Alice Springs and have most of us in recovery when it gets into bush communities.
    It’s all about flattening the curve of infection so our health system can cope.
    To flatten the curve we actually do need to isolate communities from Alice Springs as much as possible.
    That is the best way to make sure we have the capacity in our health system to treat vulnerable Aboriginal people.

  17. @Jack “They did not know it was impossible so they did it.”
    ― Mark Twain
    China, Italy, Spain, Germany and many more countries did not ask if it was feasible, they acted and did it. Are we more incompetent? or are we satisfied with your own abilities or situation that you feel you do not need to try any harder?

  18. @Jack how can we tell if they would have more casualties if they did not lock down the country?


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