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NT drops requirement for masking-up in public, with two exceptions

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Territorians in most locations are once again free to go about their business without masks. Photo: Getty
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A Northern Territory-wide COVID health order to wear face masks in most public places has been lifted.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner says the exceptions are two areas still in lockdown, Katherine and Robinson River.

Mr Gunner is also expected to have more to say about new home quarantine rules at a press conference shortly.

Police have meanwhile urged locked-down NT residents not to flout COVID-19 restrictions as more fines were dished out overnight in Katherine.

The Top End’s week-long COVID-19 outbreak has grown to 21 cases and could have spread to another two Indigenous communities.

Greater Katherine and Robinson River are under a seven-day lockdown order, which is scheduled to end late on Monday.

Katherine police issued a further 10 $5000 infringements overnight for health order breaches, with none of those fined having a valid reason to leave home and most not wearing masks.

Widespread defiance

Superintendent Peter Dash said police were “increasingly disappointed” by being forced to come down hard on rule-breakers.

“The faster people comply with the CHO directions the faster we get out of lockdown and back to the freedom of the activities we enjoy in the NT,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

“People need to start taking the directions seriously.”

Another six health direction fines in Katherine were announced on Friday evening, including four handed to people intoxicated and causing disturbances at others’ homes.

“In another case, police picked up a man who was just driving around aimlessly ‘to look at the scenery’,” Mr Dash said.

“The sixth infringement was issued to someone who left his residence to visit relatives. He was located sitting in the CBD area without a mask.”

Health authorities have detected viral fragments in wastewater from Binjari, a community on the outskirts of Katherine, 320km south of Darwin.

“This is a territory-wide issue,” Mr Gunner told reporters on Friday.

“A rapid assessment team has been deployed to Binjari.”

Mr Gunner said the team would test all 200 residents and provide vaccinations.

Three close contacts have also been identified in the remote community of Yuendumu, 1600km south of Darwin.

The NT outbreak grew by two cases on Friday, those of a 33-year-old man traced to an earlier infection and a 59-year-old woman linked to a household where other cases in the current cluster live.

The male is the territory’s first health worker to become infected and both new cases are from Katherine.

The outbreak started when a 30-year-old woman and a 43-year-old man from Katherine were reported as infected on Monday.

The woman was unvaccinated and travelled from Katherine to Robinson River, 1000km southeast of Darwin and 800km east of Katherine, where she tested positive – the first case reported in a remote NT Aboriginal community.

-AAP