NT border rules ease, COVID outbreak grows

·3-min read

The Northern Territory has detected two new COVID-19 infections as authorities ease border rules for fully vaccinated travellers.

It brings the current outbreak to 37 cases after a 33-year-old woman and a 67-year-old man in Katherine were diagnosed with the virus on Monday.

A lockdown in the town, 320km south of Darwin, has been extended for two days until Wednesday at 6pm.

Restrictions have eased in the Aboriginal community of Robinson River, 800km east of Katherine, where the lockdown is now a lockout of unvaccinated people.

Meanwhile, the NT has relaxed some of its border restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers from areas where the virus is present.

They're now permitted to quarantine at home as long as they follow new testing guidelines and return negative results.

A ban on most unvaccinated arrivals has also taken effect, regardless of where they travel from.

It comes after nine new cases were detected in Binjari, about 330km south of Darwin, on Saturday.

The tiny Aboriginal community of about 190 was ordered into an extreme lockdown along with neighbouring Rockhole, where about 100 people live.

Residents are only supposed to leave their homes in an emergency or for medical treatment, with food supplies brought to them.

However, eight Binjari people used a backtrack to walk to Katherine late yesterday before NT police located and fined them for breaching the order.

Health teams have flooded the area amid a vaccination and virus testing blitz in a bid to contain the outbreak.

Across the Katherine region, 64 per cent of Indigenous people have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 42 per cent are fully vaccinated.

The outbreak was triggered by an infected woman who illegally entered the NT in late October.

The 21-year-old lied on her border entry form before travelling from Cairns to Darwin after visiting Victoria, where she had contracted the virus.

She infected a man in Darwin before the virus spread to Katherine, then Robinson River and Binjari.

Unvaccinated travellers are now banned from entering the NT under sweeping changes to the territory's border rules, which were introduced on Monday.

The only exception will be essential personnel, those entering on compassionate grounds and Territorians returning from green zones where COVID is not present.

Fully vaccinated arrivals from red zones where the virus is present will be able to quarantine at home for seven days.

But they will need to have a rapid antigen test upon arrival in the NT and return a negative PCR test within 72 hours.

They will also have to get re-tested five, eight and 14 days after leaving quarantine and stay in a high-vaccination zone away from aged care facilities and remote communities.

The home quarantine requirement is scheduled to end on December 20, with rapid antigen testing extended to all arrivals.

About 400 NT public servants will lose their jobs after they failed to get at least one dose of the vaccine by November 13.

Most NT workers were required to get one jab by that date and be fully vaccinated by Christmas Eve under a controversial vaccine mandate announced in October.

The NT vaccination rate has been climbing at the fastest pace in the nation in recent weeks with 86 per cent of residents over 16 now having received one jab, and 73 per cent double dosed, according to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.

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