Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park has been temporarily closed at the request of traditional owners so visitors from New South Wales can undergo rapid COVID-19 testing.
The park will remain closed until at least 10am on Tuesday while hundreds of recent arrivals, including some from known virus hotspots, are checked.
Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation (MCAC) chief executive Thalia Bohl-van den Boogaard said an agreement with authorities that “no planes would land from a declared hotspot” had been broken.
She said she hoped that all recent hotspot arrivals would be tested within 24 hours.
“At the moment there are a lot of people in Yulara; I believe about 250 who have come from Sydney in the last few days, so they now all need to get tested.”
Ms Bohl-van den Boogaard said tourism operators and authorities had been receptive to the concerns of Mutitjulu residents.
In recent days, MCAC reached an impasse with Voyages, the tourism body that operates the Ayers Rock Airport, about plane arrivals.
“We’ve had good communications with Voyages … except they decided that the planes still had to land, so we just made the call that the park couldn’t stay open,” she said.
The Northern Territory government said a rapid testing team was flown to the resort town of Yulara to assist Voyages with COVID-19 testing.
A government spokesperson confirmed that four people who arrived on a flight to Uluru on Monday were from COVID-19 hotspots.
The spokesperson said the four had been taken into quarantine at Yulara and would be moved to Alice Springs on Tuesday, when it was expected they would go back to their place of origin.
Summer solstice convergence
Fiona Morrison is visiting Uluru for a summer solstice meditation event and learned by word of mouth that the park had been shut thanks to the arrival of an aircraft from Sydney.
“I went to a cafe this morning to get coffee on our way out to the national park and I overheard a lady in the coffee line saying the park had actually been closed,” she said.
Ms Morrison said there was some apprehension about being in the Yulara resort given the situation with passengers isolating and awaiting COVID-19 tests.
“So apparently the people from Sydney have been asked to isolate in their rooms; most of the staff are wearing masks and they’ve got hand sanitiser and all that type of thing.”
She said she was not only surprised that planes were allowed to land from a COVID-19 hotspot, but also was concerned at the proximity she was to some of the disembarking passengers.
“I did overhear somebody yesterday complaining … where were they going? And when were the medical tests going to happen? And [the person was] at the desk at [the hotel] in front of me.”
Parks Australia said in a statement that it was “committed to being part of a collective response that minimised the risk of COVID-19 to staff, visitors and residents within the Mutitjulu and Yulara communities and at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park”.
“Stringent measures have already been put in place by the NT government and Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia.”