Australia’s NT May Soon Scrap Mask Mandate, Indigenous Health Service Concerned

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Northern Territory (NT) Chief Minister Michael Gunner has indicated that the Australian jurisdiction’s indoor mask mandate might not be in place much longer.

Gunner told ABC Radio Darwin on Feb. 22 that he couldn’t give an exact date, but the mandate, which has been in place since New Year’s Eve, is likely to be removed sooner rather than later.

“We are seeing a decline in case numbers and declining pressure on our hospital system, so I think indoor masks [requirements] are close [to being removed],” he said.

Gunner also said that the NT government is considering scaling back the QR code check-in app to function only as a vaccine pass.

This comes after NT border restrictions were lifted on Friday, meaning interstate travellers can now enter the NT whether vaccinated against COVID-19 or not, and with no isolation period required. The federal government has the responsibility of making sure that international arrivals are at least double-vaccinated.

Gunner said in a statement released over the weekend that the reason for the change is that the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is now widespread throughout the NT and so the government is redirecting health and police resources to where they are most needed in a proportionate manner.

“The COVID-19 risk from interstate arrivals no longer outweighs the COVID-19 risk in the territory and this means it is no longer appropriate to direct significant resources monitoring arrivals,” he said.

“Friday’s decision brings us into line with every mainland jurisdiction outside of WA.”

Other reasons given for the about-face on border entry are the NT’s high double-dose vaccination rate, which Gunner said is over 95 percent, as well as the range of public health measures the NT has in place. These measures include workplace vaccine mandates and a vaccine pass requirement to enter licensed premises, cinemas, and entertainment venues.

However, Danila Dilba Health Service CEO Rob McPhee said he’s not happy with the border change, primarily because it has been brought in quietly with no Indigenous community consultation.

“So it came out of the blue on Friday, and that’s the concern, we haven’t really considered the implications of that,” he told ABC.

“I think as we just heard the chief minister said it’s critical that we stay highly vaccinated in the Territory, but we’re sending a very different message about saying you don’t need to be vaccinated to come into the territory anymore.”

McPhee added that the Indigenous community’s concern is that the decision was made very early while the NT is still battling a COVID-19 outbreak and doesn’t have the virus under control.

He went on to say that although case numbers and hospitalisations have started to decrease, what’s behind this variant is unknown, neither is what’s coming next.

“We’ve got to be careful we don’t lift all of this, these restrictions, and send the wrong message too early,” he said.

When asked about whether or not unvaccinated arrivals to the NT should still need to quarantine, McPhee said: “I’ve not called for people to be quarantined if they’re unvaccinated.”

“I’m more concerned about the fact that we’re saying, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re not vaccinated, come on down to the Territory’, I think that’s what my concern is,” he said.

Steve Milne

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Steve is an Australian reporter based in Sydney covering sport, the arts, and politics. He is an experienced English teacher, qualified nutritionist, sports enthusiast, and amateur musician. Contact him at steve.milne@epochtimes.com.au.



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