Residents of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park are threatening to block tourists from entering the park for a second time, to allay fears that updated travel guidelines could permit the spread of coronavirus.
The Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation (MCAC) has demanded the grounding of two upcoming flights from Brisbane, which Northern Territory health authorities has deemed an “area of elevated COVID-19 alert”.
The declaration is made when locations have recorded community transmission but aren’t yet listed as hotspots.
Arrivals are advised not to visit vulnerable locations, including remote communities and aged care facilities, but won’t be ordered into quarantine.
MCAC CEO Thalia Bohl-van den Boogaard said she was concerned the guidelines posed a threat to the vulnerable Indigenous residents of Mutitjulu, which is about 30 kilometres from the resort town of Yulara.
“The line between Yulara and Mutitjulu is not that clear,” she said.
“Our residents go into Yulara and staff that work for the aged care facility in Mutitjulu live in Yulara, so they would still be mixing.
“That would be a risk that is just too high to take.”
Similar concerns prompted the residents to block about 40 tourists from entering the park early last month.
The two flights, scheduled to land on Friday and Monday, would be among the first to land at Yulara Airport since the park briefly closed and flights were subsequently cancelled in August.
“Parks management have spoken to us and said that this time they will act much quicker and they will shut the park if we ask them to,” Ms Bohl-van den Boogaard said.
Health body criticises measure
Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT chief executive John Paterson said the NT Government’s new “area of elevated COVID-19 alert” classification was bad messaging that could risk endangering remote communities.
“The feedback we’re getting from members … [is] it’s creating a little bit of confusion in terms of its definition and communication,” he said.
“What does it mean? Is it a hotspot, is it not a hotspot?”
Mr Paterson said the government should consider reverting back to its old coronavirus travel restriction protocols.
“We’d just all got used to hotspot and non-hotspot areas. It was clear. There were no grey areas there,” he said.
“We just need the Chief Health Officer to be a bit more clear and make sure that they’re part of the directives and not just advising people.
“We need to go back to the basic messaging … to be watertight in our messaging.”
Ms Bohl-van den Boogaard said MCAC was pushing to have the flights cancelled while residents sought urgent clarity over the new declaration.
“They don’t want flights coming from areas of elevated risk,” she said.
“That’s just too much for them, and the people here are too great risk.”