The Northern Territory has bolstered its border restrictions, including a ban on unvaccinated arrivals, in a bid to stem a developing outbreak.
Three changes to the territory’s reopening plan came into effect today, requiring anyone travelling to the NT to be fully vaccinated with very few exemptions.
Until today, only unvaccinated travellers from red zones were banned from entering the territory.
The changes come after a cluster of cases in the Katherine grew to 35 over the weekend, which is believed to have been brought to the NT by an unvaccinated person travelling from Queensland.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the outbreak could have been avoided had the changes already been in place.
“If we had stopped her from entering the Territory based on her vaccination status or if we had tested her on arrival, there would be no spread of COVID 19,” Gunner said, according to ABC News.
“COVID would not have made it into Katherine and it would not have made it into a remote community. We wouldn’t have an elderly Aboriginal woman in hospital on oxygen right now.
“A three-week-old baby would not have the virus: no outbreak, no lockdowns, no lockouts, no masks.
“If you’re eligible to be vaccinated, and you are not fully vaccinated, you are no longer welcome in the Territory, no matter where you’re coming from.”
Rapid antigen testing has been rolled out at NT airports and regional centres with arrivals by road to test fully-vaccinated people travelling from red zones, extending to all fully-vaccinated arrivals from 20 December.
“The ability to now rapidly test people on arrival in the Territory is a game-changer,” Gunner said.
“It gives us an extra layer of protection, and gives us the confidence to start moving away from home quarantine.”
The NT has also shortened home quarantine requirements for fully-vaccinated arrivals from red zones to seven days, following the success of its 14-day home quarantine pilot program.
To be eligible for the seven-day quarantine, fully-vaccinated travellers must have returned a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival, take a rapid antigen test on arrival, get tested on day five of quarantine, and days eight and fourteen after exiting quarantine, and stay in the high vaccination zone in the week after exiting quarantine.
Meanwhile, Australians who had planned to return to Queensland from overseas for Christmas have cancelled flights after learning overseas-born spouses or young children may face a two-week stint in hotel quarantine upon arrival.
Under Queensland’s roadmap to reopening, Australian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to travel to Queensland from 17 December and quarantine at home, but those who do not meet that criteria will need to quarantine in a government-nominated facility.
However, Queensland Health told The Guardian the plan was “a guide, not a public health direction”.
“The relevant direction, once it is released, will aim to ensure families arriving into Queensland remain together,” the state health authority said.
“This will include returning Australians and partners or children who have international citizenship. We will be announcing more in the near future.”
Australian woman Pip and her husband Greg, who is a US citizen, have already cancelled their tickets home, and she said she’s not the only one.
Pip’s father, Andrew, told The Guardian he had called Queensland Health and was told the rules were “black and white”, so the family decided to cancel their plans for a Christmas at home and travel to Europe instead.
“Those dollars that were going to be spent over four weeks in the Sunshine Coast and Queensland … is going to Munich and Italy,” Andrew said.
“The airfares are going to an overseas airline. Multiply that by however many end up in similar situations.”
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