Predictable COVID rush across the border takes NT by surprise



Alice Springs is not coping well with the results of a COVID outbreak in South Australia, causing a not unexpected stream of people returning and needing to be quarantined, tested and some treated.

The main quarantine hotel is full, there were hiccups with transferring people to the Howard Springs quarantine and there are contradictory decisions about home quarantine.

On Tuesday Mr Gunner’s Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie – after continuing “to review and assess the COVID-19 situation in South Australia and take into account COVID-19 monitoring and data collection, the extent of community transmission and risks to the NT community” – declared the whole of SA a hot spot meaning that people crossing into the NT would have to quarantine for two weeks.

Two days later Dr Heggie said in a media release: “I am now confident that the cases in South Australia are limited to a cluster in a small geographical area and that these have been contained and pose a low risk to the Northern Territory.’’

Significantly, the NT’s response to the SA outbreak was accompanied by a thoroughly predictable flood of people heading north for which Mr Gunner’s “gold plated quarantine system” was utterly unprepared.

Suddenly 90% of SA was OK. That included the porous 1000 km common border which was apparently violated at will when the NT was in “locked down” earlier this year – allegations that were denied or ignored by the NT authorities.

And now the Centrecorp-owned Mercure Hotel, which the  government hired for quarantine, is full.

A second Alice Springs quarantine facility on Ross Highway, free of charge, is empty, yet people are being shipped to Darwin’s Howard Springs facility which attracts sustained allegations of mismanagement.

Mr Gunner’s boasts that we’re “the safest place in Australia” are suddenly ringing hollow.

And hair raising stories are doing the rounds.

“My daughter, partner and three children were released to our residence at midnight on Tuesday night after sitting outside the Todd [quarantine station] for four hours,” says Sharon Simpson.

They have not been checked on since they arrived, nor any direction given.”

A man and his family returned from holidaying in SA at 2.45pm on Tuesday, facing a cue of cars and buses outside the Mercure.

It took them till 7.15pm to make it to their room (they had received water, food and a shady spot in the hotel’s courtyard).

Their suggestion that they could self-quarantine in their own house, which was empty, was rejected: Permission would need to come from Darwin.

On the same day a son arrived separately, being told he would be taken to Howard Springs.

The plane struck a bird. The passengers reportedly were taken back to town where some wandered around town.

The son was given permission to self-quarantine – in his parents’ home.

“A number of people went into self-quarantine,” says the father.

“The hotel was full.”

Meanwhile Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro says Ministers Natasha Fyles and Kate Worden have falsely accused hotels of reneging on providing quarantine rooms.

Yesterday, Minister Fyles and Minister Worden claimed the Government had arranged with hotels in Alice Springs to provide rooms if they were needed for quarantine purposes.

“These claims are completely wrong,” Mrs Finocchiaro says in a media release.

“It’s obvious the contractual arrangements weren’t in place to guarantee the rooms.”

Michael Gunner won the August election by brilliantly handling a pandemic that we didn’t have.

Now that the threat has presented itself at our southern border, we discover that we’ve got someone at the helm for another four years whose ability doesn’t match his spin.

True to form, both he and Health Minister Fyles were not available to be interview.

PHOTO: Vehicles of quarantined people in the courtyard of the Mercure Hotel.


  1. Decisions made in Darwin without any due considerations for impact here in Alice Springs leave us shaking our collective heads.
    The lame defence and spin articulated by the Minister Natasha Fyles on ABC radio this afternoon was breathtaking in its stupidity. So where is the Chief?
    It is accepted that he achieved reelection on a platform of keeping us safe and public service jobs. Well, he got one part of that agenda correct.
    Sadly, we in Alice are the forgotten people led by a top end centric politician who is so far out of his depth it is frightening.
    God help us if there is an outbreak. Run for the hills, people.

  2. It all sounds very complex to me. I would have thought at some stage someone would know how many rooms were available.
    They would also know how many people were flying in and hopefully counted the people in cars crossing the border.
    Using a few primary school mathematical skills, they should be able (but we are taking Government here) to work out how many rooms are needed.
    One final calculation, subtract (take away) the numbers, an miraculously, you will have the answer.
    Finally, plan B for the plane.


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