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NT targets planes, airports in COVID battle


Airports and passenger aircraft have suddenly moved front and centre in the control of COVID 19 as its second incursion into the NT in as many months has made clear the pandemic is far from over here. 

Chief Minister Michael Gunner says it is likely the source of this most recent infection was either at an airport or during transit.

He announced today that Sydney and Canberra airports are now considered as hotspots, which also affects those transiting through them.

He says the source of the case which led to a lock-down in Darwin and Katherine “remains a mystery” and could yet have further policy implications.

Though there are rules in place for people outside of hotspots travelling through hotspot areas to airports, the issue of Territorians returning from hotspots, destined for quarantine, sharing a plane with tourists, has not been raised.

The issue has been considered by News journalist Kieran Finnane upon her return from Sydney last month, who reported that 14 of the 35 passengers on her flight went into quarantine, while the rest were allowed straight out in to the public domain.

Ms Finnane reported a health official praising those being transported into quarantine for their honesty about where they had been, wondering about the degree of honesty of those released into freedom.

The News has also heard a report from Alice Springs resident Liza Dubois, who is currently in quarantine after returning from a trip to Melbourne for a medical procedure.

“The flight that I arrived on from Melbourne on Friday the 13th had 40 passengers, two went to the Todd Facility the other 38 into the community,” reads a letter to the News from Ms Dubois.

“Four went to Ayers Rock. I know this as I spoke with them in the Qantas waiting area.  

“For three hours these 38 passengers were in close contact with myself and the other person in quarantine. Why aren’t they in the Todd Facility? They walked onto the plane, passed me to go to the toilet and off the plane. 

“If I’m in the Todd Facility for COVID I would have passed it on to them.”

Mr Gunner said in his press conference on Wednesday he expects more cases and lockdowns before the end of the year, due to the number of cases in the rest of the country.

Alice Springs Mayoral Candidate Marli Banks does not think the risk of COVID will be over any time soon, expecting it to be a constant point of discussion for the incoming council over the next four years. 

She is concerned by the lack of discussion around the continuing impact of the virus in the lead up to the election, but says it is reflective of the perception of risk by the Alice Springs community.

She says the success of the NT’s lockdowns show how vital acting quickly is, and demonstrates the need for better and more cooperative communication between council and the NT Government.

“Whoever takes on the role of mayor has got a challenge ahead of them, to foster and repair that relationship. Initially, there will be some difficulties but I don’t see why they can’t be overcome.”

Cr Banks says that through her food retail business she has seen the amount of movement around the Territory, and just how easily the virus could have made it to Alice Springs.

Staff told her that they had a number of customers who had arrived over the weekend from Darwin or Katherine.

“They were doing the right thing by wearing masks, checking in, and abiding by social distancing, but also saying that were a bit unsure about what they can and cannot do.

“There was a bit of a frenetic attitude around shopping and getting supplies because people were genuinely nervous about what was going on.”

The News put questions to COVID Media about issues raised in this report, also including:–

Given the Territory was given early access to the vaccine due to the significant proportion of the population considered to be of high risk, how is it that the Territory has the lowest proportion of over 70s with at least one jab?

On the same point, why is the percentage of Aboriginal people in the Territory who are vaccinated lower than the percentage of the general population?

Is the Territory government no longer prioritising the vaccination of vulnerable people?

PHOTO: The Alice Springs airport in headier days, May 2012.


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