Chief Minister Michael Gunner has defended his decision to allow most Victorians to travel freely through the Northern Territory without quarantining on July 17, saying his government has a “long-term sustainable” plan to get through the next COVID-19 phase.
On Sunday, Mr Gunner announced anyone arriving in the NT from a coronavirus hotspot will be forced into mandatory supervised quarantine for two weeks, at their own cost – with no exemptions granted.
Victorians will be able to freely travel through the Territory, as long as they haven’t “travelled through or engaged in a hotspot”, the Chief Minister said.
“Obviously, if you’re from a hotspot you should stay in a hotspot,” he said.
“This is a policy that is designed to stay for the long term – not just today, tomorrow, next month but also next year – we don’t know how long we are going to be in this phase, we don’t know when there will be a vaccine, or if there will be a vaccine.”
Mr Gunner said people who travelled through hotspot suburbs to get to the airport would not be forced into quarantine, as long as they stayed in the car.
“You can travel though, you can’t catch it through the windscreen … but you can’t get out and engage in that hotspot area,” he said.
Mr Gunner’s comments come as southern jurisdictions crack down on interstate travel.
The Victorian border with NSW will be closed from Tuesday night, following talks between Premiers Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
‘This is a trust issue’
The Chief Minister said the government was relying on travellers to be honest upon their arrival in the NT, but warned there were consequences for anyone lying to the authorities.
“This is a trust issue,” Mr Gunner said.
“If you lie, and don’t want to spend 14 days in a hotel room, then you face three years in a prison cell.”
Mr Gunner said putting a blanket ban on all Victorians wasn’t the answer, as in future outbreaks could be in other states and territories.
“The hotspots could appear tomorrow in Adelaide or Brisbane or Adelaide or the Gold Coast and we want to have a plan that works wherever they are,” he said.
Until July 17, people arriving in the NT from any other state or territory were required to go into self-quarantine, Mr Gunner said.
On July 17, anyone who was in self-quarantine could leave their place of self-isolation and travel freely though the Northern Territory, unless they were from a hotspot area.
“If you’re from a hotspot area, we will say to you, you need to stay in quarantine past 17th of July until you’ve done your 14 [days],” Mr Gunner said.
Airport ready for ‘uptick’ in travellers
NT Airport CEO Tony Edmondstone said Darwin’s international airport was preparing for an influx of travellers, and he was confident they’d be able to manage the increased workload.
“We’re just starting to see an uptick, but we are expecting a lift, obviously, on the 17th when the borders open,” he said.
Mr Edmondstone said they’d put measures in place in the past few months, including refurbishing bathrooms, which would help passengers maintain physical distancing and stay safe.
However, he admitted it was a “challenge” to enforce social distancing when travellers were boarding and disembarking planes at the same time.
In future, Mr Edmondstone said airport staff would literally walk around and remind people to maintain their distance, to keep travellers safe.