NT may face total COVID-19 lockdown

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

At 6am today I checked the SecureNT Facebook page and here still was the 36 minute and 8 second video of the Chief Minister that was 17 hours old when I had checked it the morning before and, upon a 10 minute or so viewing, it had left me in no doubt that this was as much election propaganda (cash for businesses struggling under the pandemic, and so on) as it was practical information on the health crisis.

 

Does anyone have 36 minutes and 8 seconds at 6am on a weekday for watching a politician talk?

 

Yesterday’s work began in earnest by sending an email to the Department of the Chief Minister SecureNT at 7.42am, asking: “Apart from rigorously controlled essential services workers (who obviously can do so), are people able and permitted to move between urban, rural and remote centres in the NT at their discretion?”

 

Overcrowded housing and frequent close contacts in Aboriginal communities are bound to be key factors for the spread of COVID-19 if it gets into those communities. With hand-washing the number one protective practice recommended by health authorities, poor hygiene is another.

 

The response from DCM.SecureNT started with the word “Yes”. This meant, I assumed, that, yes, people could move unhindered between places of habitation.

 

This was followed by 411 words of nothing new, but ended with: “NT remote communities have been closed to all non-essential travel in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.”

 

This statement appeared to be in conflict with the “Yes” and I drew this to the attention of DCM.SecureNT. They did not reply.

 

It would seem to mean that outsiders without an essential reason cannot go to bush communities while their residents are free to circulate, including to the regional centres such as Alice Springs.

 

Meanwhile the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of Alice Springs (COA) were calling for the NT to “become a Special Control Area for COVID-19 or else there will be a lot of preventable deaths.

 

“This means that we want to apply the same travel restrictions that apply to international visitors nationally to visitors to the Northern Territory from any Australian jurisdiction.”

 

So, visitors – or returning residents too? – coming into the NT, by whatever mode of transport, would have to go straight into a two-week period of self-isolation.

 

The restrictions on movement within the NT, however, are not expected to apply to residents of bush communities. Says the COA statement: “Aboriginal people move in and out of our regional centres all the time for life saving health care, to get back on to Centrelink payments and to buy food at affordable prices. This will not just stop overnight. We have to make sure that the regional centres in the NT are also protected in order to protect our remote communities.

 

“Apart from the inability of the health system to cope, our communities cannot suddenly overcome the additional susceptibility to this infection due to underlying chronic diseases, overcrowding, lack of food security, inadequate income and many other social determinants that will see this virus become a ‘super spreader’ if allowed in. There is no immediate fix to these issues.”

 

Lockdown of communities, with the provision of support to them that is required, is apparently not to be considered.

 

Is the government going to adopt the COA’s demand for travel restrictions to the whole of the NT?

 

Mr Gunner indicated on ABC news last night that he is looking into whether he has the powers to do so.

 

Another day had gone by as Italy’s death toll surpassed China’s and as Australia’s infections continued to climb. 

 

This morning the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance (AMSANT) has come out in support of the COA, calling for the entire NT – and the tristate region, taking in remote areas of WA and SA – to become a Special Control Area.

 

“New Zealand and Tasmania have led the way in forward-thinking, decisive action to fight this virus. We must follow their lead,” says AMSANT CEO, John Paterson.

 

“The recent spike in numbers of confirmed cases in other jurisdictions, particularly NSW, Queensland and Victoria, points to an exponential growth of spread. Yet the NT remains without any cases. This offers a narrow window of opportunity.

 

“Our Aboriginal population comprises the most vulnerable group in Australia and the projections for the likely health impacts of COVID 19 are nothing short of devastating.

 

“The [Swine flu related] H1N1 virus in 2009 resulted in death rates amongst the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population six times that of the non- Indigenous community and the need for ICU beds around eight times more.

 

“The risk factors for COVID 19 are greater and hence the impact is likely to be higher than for H1N1.”

 

Meanwhile the Alice Springs Show will not be held this year.

 

Acting President Murray MacLeod says: “For the last 60 years, the show has celebrated the best of our community through competition, gathering together and celebrating our pastoral heritage.

 

“This year the best way that we can support the local community is by closing our gates.”

 

 

UPDATE 4.50pm

 

Today, the National Cabinet has given in-principle agreement for the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act to be used to restrict travel into and out of remote communities.

 

 

 

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9 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. The Gongoozler
    Posted March 22, 2020 at 1:57 pm

    The Coronavirus was always going to be a job killer. However, the obvious decision to put people in front of business is humane and sound.
    We will recover in time but many people will not.
    The average percentage of deaths from Coronavirus is 5% to 10% depending on the demographic, country and ability to isolate.
    That means when you see numbers real human beings will die. This is real.

    View Comment
  2. Kim
    Posted March 21, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    So we are heavily advertising our struggling tourism industries, begging for Aussies to holiday here at home in our own backyard, yet the contemplation of closing NT state borders for the winter – the tourist time for the Red Centre with the small towns which rely on the grey nomads and the likes to make their livings for the year!
    I have had a road trip planned for the last 12 months heading from near port Macquarie new through Broken Hill to Port Augusta, to Coober Pedy then through Uluru, King’s Canyon, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and then back into Mt Isa, spending money in all the little towns and caravan parks along the way, supporting Aussie tourism.
    To close the NT border is going to kill these little towns!
    Please think of the bigger picture in this decision, not just the scaremongering about COVID-19.
    It is going to get there somehow, someway, because it just will, so don’t totally kill your tourism industry that you have been begging for Aussies to support.
    And in turn kill all the little people out there that rely on this passing trade to live.

    View Comment
  3. Kathy
    Posted March 21, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Why not restrict the members of the communities from leaving and this will help prevent the spread of the virus to the communities.
    Supplies can be sent out and internet can provide necessary payments as it does to everyone else.

    View Comment
  4. Peter
    Posted March 21, 2020 at 9:45 am

    @ Franklin: Thanks for joining this conversation.
    You are an icon of the bush and have lived at Yuendumu for many decades.
    Please explain what assumptions you find wrong and offensive and why.

    View Comment
  5. Fred
    Posted March 20, 2020 at 9:10 pm

    Typical response from white Territorians. Sob, sob, cry me a river. You’re not the only ones affected by this, the whole of Australia is.

    View Comment
  6. Franklin D Baarda
    Posted March 20, 2020 at 6:20 pm

    My favourite sentence in Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu is:
    “… then all of us must be alert to that greatest of all limitations to wisdom: The Assumption.”
    All three comments that precede mine are replete with assumptions. Many of these assumptions, as a resident of Yuendumu, I consider to be wrong and offensive.

    View Comment
  7. Peter
    Posted March 20, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    @ UO: We can’t base our strategy on wishful thinking.
    Communities will not, probably cannot self isolate.
    Individuals will not maintain social distance nor will they wash their hands.
    Sorry business will not change so people don’t shake hands.
    These are things that are not open to influence no matter how desirable they are.
    Aboriginal communities must be protected from themselves.
    The only way to do that is to isolate them.
    They must be cut off from town, completely shut down with the exception of store provisioning, the police and urgent medicals.
    That is the only way to prevent a disaster that wipes out hundreds of Aboriginal people.

    View Comment
  8. UO
    Posted March 20, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    These communities have the ability to self isolate.
    They have a wider responsibility to participate in their own protections and safety.
    It is completely appropriate and necessary for Aboriginal community members to restrict their own travel and this must be enforced.
    Go home to your community and stay there with your families. Look after your own family. Wash your hands. Take some responsibility for your own actions.
    It is not the responsibility of every other NT business, resident or visitor to bring the NT economy to its knees for the interest of a small minority.
    Especially when these few won’t look after themselves (and whose income will continue regardless, unlike the rest of us who will be faced with personal and business devastation).

    View Comment
  9. Peter
    Posted March 20, 2020 at 9:47 am

    While ignoring the high risks, the Government and agencies are focussed on tackling the low risks such as agency staff visiting communities.
    On Saturday I saw students from Yirara College out shopping.
    I have heard that students move between Yirara and their communities often, for a funeral, footy or just bored.
    Yesterday at a shopping centre I caught up with some people from communities I know.
    Good to see them but it is obvious that there is a lot of travel between communities and town.
    How did they get to the Alice?
    Most by the Bush Bus, a few in their vehicles.
    Why did they come?
    Shopping, accessing health services and many for drinking.
    The movement between town and communities is high risk.
    Handing a bottle of spirits around at a drinking camp could infect a large group very quickly.
    Same with the sharing of cigarettes and food.
    Sorry business involves shaking hands and there is a lot of sorry business.
    Then back home on the Bush Bus or vehicle when the money runs out.

    View Comment

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