Covid-19 NT: Road map reveals race to freedom

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One leader has revealed a bold plan to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, which could ruffle feathers at home and interstate.

The Northern Territory’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner has revealed a “50-day race to freedom” under a road map for managing the ongoing battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Gunner said the aim was to keep tough border measures in place for unvaccinated people trying to enter, more freedoms for vaccinated Territorians and businesses, and making vaccines compulsory for workers in high risk settings.

He said the goal was also to protect vulnerable remote communities and add an extra layer of protection for those who cannot yet be vaccinated, like children aged under 12.

“We need as many Territorians as possible to be fully vaccinated before we take the next steps,” Mr Gunner told reporters on Wednesday.

The plan was to reach a full vaccination rate of 80 per cent by early November, with Mr Gunner describing it as “the final sprint”.

“Vaccine complacency is a bigger challenge for us than vaccine hesitancy or opposition,” Mr Gunner said.

“There are plenty of people who intend to get the vaccine but don’t see it as a priority and haven’t got round to it.

“If this applies to you, I am telling you now is the time to get it done. Make it a priority.

“We are now in a 50-day race to freedom. If we can reach our targets in the next 50 days, from early November we can take the next steps.”

Mr Gunner also announced a transition from the hotspot policy to three travel categories – with different rules depending on whether the traveller was vaccinated.

GREEN: If you arrive from a place that is not a designated hot spot.

ORANGE: If you arrive from an area that has low-level Covid risk. Vaccinated travellers will be required to self-quarantine and they can then leave quarantine once they have received a negative test result.

RED: If you arrive from an area designated a hotspot. Vaccinated people will no longer have to quarantine in Howard Springs or the Alice Springs facility. Instead, they must undertake 14 days of self-quarantine.

Unvaccinated travellers from an orange or red zone will be banned from entering the Territory unless they have a pre-approved reason for travel.

“We are gong to be walking a tight rope for a while,” Mr Gunner said.

He revealed “short and sharp” lockdowns could still happen even after surpassing the 80 per cent goal.

But a “lockout” was also an option, whereby vaccinated people would not be locked down.

They could instead continue to work and go out, provided they wear a mask.

People who can get vaccinated but choose not to will be locked out of those freedoms.

The vaccine will be mandatory for workers in high-risk environments, including:

  • Teachers and child care workers;
  • Frontline health and emergency workers;
  • Customer-facing roles like supermarket, retail and hospitality staff;
  • Quarantine and border control workers;
  • GP clinics and pharmacies; and
  • Anyone who undertakes work related to essential infrastructure, supply or logistics.

Mr Gunner said while other jurisdictions were working on plans to let Covid-19 spread in their communities, it was not something the Territory could contemplate, even with high vaccination rates.

“We don’t have the hospitals that Sydney and Melbourne have, we don’t have the same ICU capacity, and we have a lot of other health challenges to manage up here on top of Covid,” he said.

“We need to do everything possible to prevent a situation like NSW happening here.

“We have 20 ICU beds in the Territory. We can probably assign eight of them for Covid patients.”

Health authorities have mapped out the worst case scenarios and the grim choices that would have to be made.

“Who gets a bed and who doesn’t, who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t, and who gets a choice to live and who doesn’t,” Mr Gunner said.

“We have thought about those choices. We don’t want to make them. We know Covid is coming eventually. We know we cannot keep it out forever.

“But that does not mean we just let Covid rip and hope for the best … the biggest risk isn’t here in the Territory — it’s outside.

“Our number one objective will be to keep Covid out as much as we possibly can, so we can manage it safely.”

Mr Gunner said while he knew he was supposed to say he respected people’s decision to not get vaccinated, he did not.

“I don’t understand it. I don’t respect it … I do respect that it’s your choice,” he said.

The Chief Minister also noted that while NSW and Victoria were talking about their plans to reopen their economies, the Territory was already open.

“While others talk about what restrictions they might relax in the future, we really don’t have any restrictions to relax,” he said.

“Our workplaces and businesses are open. Our night life is open. Our parks are open. Our borders are open to everywhere that is currently safe from Covid.

“As the global pandemic has roared and raged for the past 18 months, the Territory has earned its reputation as the safest place from Covid with the most freedoms.

“Our plan needs to be focused on keeping it that way. A plan to stay safe and to stay free.”

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