28 Jun 2021

Australia's Northern Territory 'facing its biggest threat since Covid crisis began'

8:01 am on 28 June 2021

New Zealanders in Darwin describe the city as panicked after being thrown into a lockdown with just hours' notice - having previously barely been disrupted by Covid-19.

Australia, Northern Territory, Darwin, town center (aerial view) (Photo by DOZIER Marc / hemis.fr / Hemis via AFP)

Photo: AFP / hemis.fr

Australia is grappling with multiple rapidly growing outbreaks, reaching parts of the country the virus never has before.

One of the threats: A mine worker who tested positive in central Australia. He had 900 colleagues leave the mine and travel elsewhere before his positive result was returned.

One of these contacts flew north to Darwin, spent time in the greater area, and then tested positive. Due to the possibility of the man being contagious while in the community, the Darwin region is now under harsh movement restrictions closing almost everything but essential services, initially for 48 hours.

"The Northern Territory is now facing its biggest threat since the Covid crisis began," Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.

"I cannot rule out the lockdown being longer. I cannot rule out expanding the boundaries of the lockdown. If it needs to be longer, if it needs to be wider, it will be."

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Gunner said there are another 14 people who worked at the mine and have travelled to Darwin that they have yet to track down, which is of concern to them.

New Zealander Ritihia Neho-Popata, originally from Kaitaia, said the city has for a long time not had any Covid. Darwin has never been in a lockdown before now.

"We never had any cases, and pretty much life was normal here. Then Covid hits, you sort of panic. [They] put us in lockdown straight away," Neho-Popata said.

The government only gave a few hours' notice before the lockdown came into force.

Soana Tupou, originally from Māngere, said it has been chaotic at supermarkets.

"That's the worst I've seen. I've never seen anything like it... Everyone's parking on the side of the road, the line in the shopping centre was crazy. Shelves were stripped of meat, bread and milk - and toilet paper."

Soana's husband Sholan said they worry a case in their area could be a super spreader.

"We live in Palmerston, a satellite city outside of Darwin. He's been found here for about a week, so he's been going around town, possibly infecting people."

Arahi Taloa is in Alice Springs, further south and also very remote. She said the town has never had a case from community transmission. However it's the closest town to the remote mine site, and she said fly-in, fly-out miners could have travelled anywhere before the positive case was known about.

She booked a trip home to New Zealand for her Mum's 70th birthday next month.

"I'm just concerned about being able to fly home. I'm crossing my fingers, crossing my toes."

The chief minister Michael Gunner said he cannot rule out more restrictions, applied more widely, and for longer.

Tupou said keeping Covid at bay is especially important because of the severe effects it would have on the Indigenous population.

"Up here we've got a very vulnerable population - the Indigenous Australians. Their immune system probably wouldn't be able to cope with some of the symptoms Covid brings."

New South Wales is worst off with 107 cases in the last week. Restrictions are also being increased due to new cases in Western Australia and Queensland.

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