COVID kindling set to ignite with a single spark



Op Ed for the Alice Springs News by the CEO of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress

We need “hard borders” to hotspots as COVID-19 kindling is set to ignite with a single spark in the Northern Territory.

It has so far done exceptionally well in preventing infections within our borders.

A large part of that success is because back in March the NT Government acted promptly to control our borders and make sure that all people arriving here underwent 14 days quarantine. 

Because of our collective hard work, we are now able to welcome back visitors from all jurisdictions that do not have community transmission.  This is great news for the NT.

However, the serious outbreaks of community transmission of the coronavirus across Victoria and in Sydney make it look increasingly likely that severe restrictions will need to be reimposed in those places to try and control the outbreaks.

How can we open up the Northern Territory in a safe way and avoid experiencing the same pattern, with the very significant health and economic consequences that would follow?

Most importantly, the NT Government must follow all the other States and Territories in Australia in imposing a “hard border” with any coronavirus hot spot.

We should not continue to be the only jurisdiction going alone with a different approach.  This would mean not allowing anyone who has recently been in an area of significant community transmission (currently all of Victoria and Greater Sydney) to enter the Northern Territory. Any such arrivals would need to be turned around at our borders to keep the Northern Territory free of COVID-19.

At the moment, we do not have a hard border. Our borders are not closed.

People who arrived from those places before 17 July are only required to self-quarantine for 14 days, and we know that self-quarantine is risky.

Recent data from Central Australia shows that of the people in self-quarantine about 10% were not at home when checked.

We also know that people are only being checked about a third of the time they are in quarantine so the proportion of people breaching quarantine will be higher than this.

We think around a hundred people from Victoria who arrived before 17 July are still in self-quarantine for up to the next two weeks here in Alice, so this is a significant risk for everyone in the community.

From 17 July people from coronavirus hot spots have still been allowed to come to the NT but must enter mandatory supervised quarantine at their own expense.

This is a significant disincentive for people to come, and it is safer than self-quarantine, but it is not foolproof.

All it takes is one person with the virus to leave quarantine illegally, or to infect someone working at or visiting the hotel or motel where they are quarantining, and we could be facing a serious outbreak of COVID-19.

This is what happened in Melbourne, leading to the serious outbreak there.

This is why a hard border to those who have been in coronavirus hot spots, with very limited exceptions who would have to go into mandatory supervised quarantine, is the safest way to go to keep all of us safe.

Even jurisdictions that have managed supervised hotel quarantine as well as the NT have still chosen to implement a hard border with Victoria and other hotspots.  There is no reason why we should think we can do quarantine any better than all the other jurisdictions who have decided it is too risky.

As well as the hard border, the best way to keep the NT safe is for us to eliminate community transmission of the COVID-19 virus across all of Australia.

Originally it was thought by many people, including some of the nation’s leading epidemiologists,  that this goal was unachievable.

However, the success we have had in the NT and in the rest of Australia until recently, and that has been achieved in New Zealand so far, tells us that this is a reasonable aim.  As a result, many epidemiologists have publicly declared their change of mind.

It may require maintaining some restrictions for longer, but the alternative is much worse: continuing outbreaks like we are seeing in Victoria and New South Wales with all the health risks, the economic disruption, and sadly the deaths that will accompany them.

None of this is easy.

The virus is a dangerous opponent, quick to reveal any weaknesses in how we respond to it.

That is why our governments need to be quick to adapt to new situations. Imagining that we are in the same place now as we were a month ago will not help anyone and could be dangerous.

It is also why we all need to recognise that, far from the pandemic being over, this is the time of greatest risk.

We must not be complacent.

The next two weeks are critical, and as an organisation dedicated to the health and wellbeing of people in Central Australia, Congress urges everyone to keep physical distancing, avoid crowded indoor places, continue to wash your hands many times a day and get tested if you have any respiratory symptoms at all …  now more than ever, we need to test, test, test.

It could only take one spark to set off a bushfire that could burn through the Territory, doing untold damage to our families, or businesses and our communities.


  1. How many months have Congress and the councils had to educate and assist people in Covid-19?
    Hoping for it never to arrive is never going to prevent infections.
    The more people know about the symptoms, the more likely they are to seek medical help.
    I would live to see a few workers hanging around the shops and pubs to keep people alert of social distancing, and not just blame the NT Government for borders being open.

  2. @ Watchn My: reading of this article seems different to yours. There is nothing Donna Ah Chee wrote that suggests that Congress and the council haven’t been “educating and assisting people in Covid-19”.
    Neither do I read in the article that she is blaming the NT Government.
    Regarding Covit-19, so far we’ve been lucky and there is nothing to blame the Government for.
    Donna is merely raising the alarm and advocating for a hard line on border control. Good on her.
    Better safe than sorry, I think.

  3. Totally agree with your comments, just hope the government returns to stricter restrictions again. Thank you.

  4. I’m with Donna – she articulates with clarity. It just comes down to commonsense. The dollar over lives. One more month, Mr Gunner, and we may have avoided what will surely come.

  5. If someone is in quarantine, and is infected and Covid-19 gets out, Congress are prepared to blame the Government.
    Go for a walk around town, look at the line up at the front door of the pubs, no social distancing.
    This is where, out in public, Congress should be talking and letting people know that it could be dangerous.
    So if there is a breakout of coronavirus, the people who could be most affected are ready to deal with it.
    Otherwise we will see police locking down town camps like the buildings in Melbourne. That will not be good for anyone.

  6. There has been a lot of community education but many people in the community have become complacent in many ways including in relation to physical distancing.
    This has not been helped by the fact the CHO removes determination No 37 which means in the NT there is no longer any legal requirement to physically distance in public.
    The police are therefore powerless to do anything about the this queue or any other situation where physical distancing in public, outside immediate family of your own social group, is not being practised.
    Yet again, the NT is the only jurisdiction to have revoked this legal requirement – perhaps Watch should focus on this.
    Education only achieves so much but not everything.

  7. @watchn

    Education is a long winded process. We spend our lives trying to improve our knowledge.
    Pointing the finger at congress is unfair for many reasons not withstanding the fact that education alone will not rid us of the virus.
    If you look at the statistics, you will find that it’s the white people who seem to be the transmitters.
    You only need to read the news to see the lack of adherence to the laws and guidelines surrounding COVID-19.
    It is the government only, who can close the borders and in my opinion they should ban anyone who had been via or come from Victoria.
    When an NT resident contracts COVID-19, the government should be held solely accountable.
    In my opinion they have been too weak by allowing people in and given the situation now, Victorians.


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