ABOVE. A spokesman for Woolworths says: “Our Alice Springs store experienced higher than usual demand yesterday. We have more stock to replenish the shelves enroute, and we’ll continue monitoring the situation closely over the coming days.”
By OSCAR PERRI
Alice Springs is poised to receive news around the rapidly evolving COVID situation but the majority of our councillors, including the mayor and deputy mayor, are keeping their distance from the action.
Chief Minister Gunner’s announcement yesterday of a snap lockdown for Darwin has resulted in significant concern from Alice Springs community, with reports of panic buying and responses from organisations like the AFLNT to cancel events.
Cr Marli Banks wanted a council meeting to be called on Saturday night, but like Monday’s special meeting to discuss the budget, council officers and CEO Robert Jennings again failed to put together an agenda and contact elected members with four hours notice.
As a result the meeting was pushed back to yesterday morning. Cr Banks says the CEO wanted to postpone the meeting till today but she insisted on it being held yesterday.
Only four elected members, Councillors Banks, Jimmy Cocking, Eli Melky and Catherine Satour showed up or called in via phone or Zoom but there was no quorum of five for the meeting.
Instead a forum was held, which means that councillors were unable to make any decisions, and no minutes were recorded.
Mayor Damien Ryan, Deputy Mayor Jacinta Price and Councillor Jamie de Brenni were all in Darwin on Saturday for the Country Liberal Party’s Federal election preselection process and announcement.
The Mayor returned to Alice Springs yesterday and is not in isolation.However, he would not give the reason for his apology to yesterday’s proposed meeting when asked.
“Like any other elected member I was an apology but I have been fully informed by the CEO every few hours.”
He says his concern for the current situation extends as far as following the advice of the Chief Health Officer.
Councillor Melky says that it would take a family or medical emergency to stop him from attending a council meeting discussing as serious an issue as the current COVID situation.
Councillor Banks, who called the meeting, says: “Now is not the time for complacency. I’ve got concerns around our ability to act quickly at a point of crisis, in particular to spend money towards an emergency response.”
Cr Banks says the purpose of the meeting was “about ensuring that the lines of communication are open, that we’re ahead of the game and not just reacting to it, and that we’re supporting the operational team to continue to deliver as best as we all can.
“These situations tend to escalate, more often than not pretty quickly and to the disadvantage of the community.
“I wanted to make sure that we were doing everything we could to ensure that community outbreak was tamed through our capacity as the council.”
Council will now be receiving regular updates from council officers about the COVID response, and have scheduled several meetings over the next week to track the progress, allocate funds from the emergency reserve fund if necessary, and review upcoming council run events.
Council has a pandemic plan that was introduced over a year ago. In yesterday’s forum it was acknowledged that the plan was in need of updating. The new municipal plan, which was adopted by council in the most recent meeting saw the $5m COVID reserves fund dissolved and replaced with a $2m emergency reserve fund.
Councillors present heard that officers have had several meetings with relevant arms of the NT government over the weekend, and are being updated several times a day.
Power to cancel or introduce restrictions for other events, such as the upcoming Alice Springs Show and Territory Day celebrations, fall on the NT Chief Health Officer.
The CHO has the power to recommend restrictions to the NT government, who are required to follow these recommendations and facilitate their implementation, as is council.
Cr Melky says he has “no doubt whatsoever” that the CHO is acting in the best interests of Alice Springs and Central Australia.
The Mayor says he is concerned by reports of panic buying (photo at top) in Alice Springs, urging the community to be calm and only take what is needed.
“You don’t need to clear the store out, there are plenty of supplies. We don’t have any shortages at this stage, according to the CHO.
“We shouldn’t all run off with discussions on hypotheticals, i think we should follow the one line, and that line is what’s being said by the CHO.
“That is the easiest and the safest and the best advice for everyone, we just need to all work through this calmly.
“The CHO is working for everybody in the NT.”
Speaking with the ABC, NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles said that Central Australia is “in a very strong position,” with none of the close or casual contacts with known cases testing positive so far and all of them currently in isolation or the quarantine facility.
She says that the need for introducing new restrictions in the region has been thoroughly discussed in emergency cabinet meetings in recent days.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner has announced that Territory Day celebrations have been delayed across the Territory, and addressed the situation in Alice Springs.
“it’s not cancelled, it is delayed, once we are through this we will announce a new date and have one hell of a party, as one Territory.
“We have had some questions about Alice Springs and why Alice is not in lockdown.
“Basically, everyone who arrived in Alice Springs from the mine has been perfect, that’s why Alice is not in lockdown.
“[This] does not mean that cannot change in the future, but so far so good for Central Australia. Thank you to everyone in Central Australia, you are amazing.”
Last updated 29 June 2021, 12.52pm.