• New arrivals from Sydney embraced their family members at Darwin Airport on Friday after the NT's borders were opened to travellers from NSW. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)Source: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
An outbreak of the coronavirus in the Top End remains a real threat and a potential crisis that would be "catastrophic" for Aboriginal communities, says NLC chief executive.
Aneeta Bhole

10 Oct 2020 - 3:23 AM  UPDATED 10 Oct 2020 - 4:51 AM

Sydneysiders embraced their family members and friends at Darwin Airport on Friday following the Northern Territory government's decision to ease its border restrictions to visitors from the Harbour City, allowing them to move freely across the Top End without even undergoing quarantine. 

But while the relaxed borders were a cause for celebration for some, other Darwin locals were not as enthusiastic.

The decision to ease NT border restrictions comes despite the southern city experiencing a coronavirus outbreak in its west late this week and more COVID-positive clusters predicted to emerge in surrounding suburbs over coming days. 

Some NT residents said they worried that lifting the bans on travellers from NSW entering the Top End may be premature. Other Territorians described the decision to allow people from Sydney in as “deeply disturbing”. 

“Let the diseased ***** stay down there,” said one local woman who was waiting the arrival of her family, who were traveling within the NT. Across the concourse, a cabin load of newly arrived passengers from NSW began to stroll through the terminal's security points, headed for the baggage carousels and the front exit.  

Olga Havnen, the chief executive officer of Danila Dilba Health Service, an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation in Darwin, told NITV News that it is important for communities not to become complacent when it comes to efforts in preventing an outbreak of the coronavirus, despite previously strict public health orders being relaxed.   

“The Aboriginal health sector has consistently raised our concerns about the potential risk to Aboriginal people and communities," said Ms Havnen.  

“We need to maintain strict control measures to ensure that Aboriginal people are not exposed to this virus. Stay away from large groups and crowds where possible, and if appropriate – use a face mask, practice social distancing and good hand hygiene.

“For people in remote communities – don’t come into town unless you really need to. Travel safely – if on a bus or a plane use a face mask, hand sanitiser, stay somewhere safe.” 

Ms Havnen emphasised the disproportionate impact that the coronavirus pandemic has on low socio-economic groups.  

“We know that Aboriginal people have poorer health than other Australians. Aboriginal people are more vulnerable and at higher risk of community-level spread due to overcrowding and poor housing conditions. 

“It is absolutely imperative that governments do not compromise the safety and wellbeing of high-risk, vulnerable groups,” she said. 

The chief executive officer of the Northern Land Council (NLC), Marion Scrymgour, told NITV News that many residents in remote Indigenous communities remain fearful of coronavirus and realise that it is not just their elderly members who are at risk. 

“The burden of illness on the community has always been that, should coronavirus go into our communities – and god forbid it ever does – the results would be quite catastrophic,” said Ms Scrymgour.  

“We would see fatalities amongst not just the older population, but we would see a lot of deaths amongst our young population where we have high levels rheumatic heart disease and end-of-stage renal failure.” 

Ms Scrymgour said if the situation is monitored keenly the coronavirus should stay subdued across the NT.   

“We just need to make sure that we continue to monitor. If an issue comes up, we need to be able to lock that community down straight away and test, tag, and contain that region so that it doesn’t spread elsewhere." 

Ms Scrymgour said the NLC would not be issuing any recreational permits to areas it administered for the time being. 

“That’ll stay on hold until we are 100 per cent comfortable that coronavirus isn’t going to be transmitted into our communities,” she said. 

There are currently no active cases of coronavirus confirmed in the NT.  

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