By ERWIN CHLANDA
“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.
By ERWIN CHLANDA