The NT will still open its borders on July 17, but people who live in COVID-19 hotspots will have to self-isolate for 14 days, at their own cost, upon arrival, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner says.
On Thursday, Australian Medical Association NT branch president Dr Robert Parker said the NT government’s decision to open its borders in three weeks was “sheer idiocy” given the spike in coronavirus cases in Victoria.
But Mr Gunner said the NT could not “stay shut forever”.
“The outbreaks in Victoria are not spread throughout the state, they are in certain suburbs among some family groups and workplaces,” he said.
“The Territory has stayed safe by closing our borders to all states. In our next step, we will stay safe by keeping our borders closed to suburbs that are not safe.”
Mr Gunner said people coming from declared “hotspots” interstate would not be allowed to freely explore the NT upon their arrival.
“From the 17th of July, if your suburb or local government area has been declared a hotspot by your state or territory or by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, then you will not be allowed free entry to the Territory,” he said.
“You will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days at a regional centre and at your own cost before you can enjoy the NT.”
Mr Gunner said by the time the NT opened its borders on July 17, some hotspot areas might be under control but there could be other areas of concern.
Police say NT is in ‘unique position’
NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said in recent weeks, interstate arrivals had been “blatant in their disregard of the safety of the Northern Territory” by not complying with self-quarantine requirements.
He urged Territorians to remind friends and family visiting that the NT had a vulnerable population and was in a “unique position” after clinically eradicating coronavirus.
“We need you to highlight that the reason the Territory is so special is that the Territory has bonded together to make it so,” Commissioner Chalker said.
“It is vulnerable if people are going to come up and be belligerent and not respect what we are trying to put in place here.”
The Commissioner said new arrivals would still need to fill in an arrival form when they reached the NT. It would ask if they had visited a hotspot area anywhere in Australia.
He said anyone who lied on the form could face a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
“We can identify if somebody has misled us and lied on the form,” Commissioner Chalker said.
Mr Gunner said the new requirement would remain in place for a fortnight after borders opened and might be extended.
‘It’s a big step and a scary step’
Mr Gunner said he understood many people were worried about the next phase, but restrictions on travellers from hotspots was a better system than a travel bubble operating with other coronavirus-free states.
“We had a hot spot on the top of WA, there’s nothing in front of me that says those bubble states will remain [coronavirus] free or risk free so we have to have something in place that makes sure we look after ourselves from any direction,” he said.
“I know the eventual opening of our borders worries a lot of Territorians, I get it, it worries me too – it’s a big step and a scary step.
“We know we cannot wait for a vaccine; we don’t know how or if there will be one.
“We cannot wait for zero cases of coronavirus in Australia, we don’t know how or if that will happen.”
In the event of a future outbreak in the NT, the Chief Minister said the government had plans, which could include locking down a remote community or suburb to prevent spreading.