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Northern Territory welcomes stranded Australians as international border closure debate ramps up

The Northern Territory will double the number of returning Australians it can accommodate in hotel quarantine after the Victorian premier suggested they should not be allowed to travel home at all. 

About 1,700 overseas returnees are expected to be able to isolate at Howard Springs’ Covid-19 quarantine facility from April.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he wanted to wait until cyclone season ended before increasing the capacity.

‘[We’ve had] very positive conversations with the Australian Government on how we expand the intake,’ he said. 

About 1,700 overseas returnees are expected to be able to isolate at Howard Springs’ Covid-19 quarantine facility from April

The Northern Territory will double the number of returning Australians it can accommodate in hotel quarantine after the Victorian premier suggested they should not be allowed to travel home

The Northern Territory will double the number of returning Australians it can accommodate in hotel quarantine after the Victorian premier suggested they should not be allowed to travel home

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he wanted to wait until cyclone season ended before increasing the capacity

Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he wanted to wait until cyclone season ended before increasing the capacity

‘I’m conscious of personnel issues and cyclone shelter issues. We are working towards at least double.’

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, by contrast, suggested 40,000 Australians still stranded overseas should not be allowed to travel home unless they are granted a compassionate exemption.

Mr Gunner said his territory experienced a fall in the number of people quarantining from interstate, which freed up more room for repatriated Australians. 

About 850 people are able to quarantine at the Howard Springs former mining camp on Darwin’s outskirts, which has been renamed the Centre of National Resilience.

‘We’ve also had an allocation within the centre for a possible Territory scenario which never eventuated,’ Mr Gunner said.

Mr Andrews argued the government needed to have a ‘cold hard discussion’ about tightening international borders – even to citizens – as new ‘mutant’ Covid strains from the UK and South Africa threaten to derail Australia’s coronavirus response.  

Mr Andrews argued the government needed to have a 'cold hard discussion' about tightening international borders - even to citizens - as new 'mutant' Covid strains from the UK and South Africa threaten to derail Australia's coronavirus response

Mr Andrews argued the government needed to have a ‘cold hard discussion’ about tightening international borders – even to citizens – as new ‘mutant’ Covid strains from the UK and South Africa threaten to derail Australia’s coronavirus response

He added it was up to the federal government to make a decision on what happens to Australia’s international borders, but he suggested a ‘smaller program’ may be necessary.

Australia already has one of the strictest flight caps in the world with only citizens, permanent residents and their spouses or dependents allowed to enter Australia.

This week Australia’s intake will be increased slightly to 6,300 people – but that decision may rolled back in the wake of the Victorian outbreak.

Over the course of the pandemic about 200,000 Australians have gone through mandatory hotel quarantine.

HEALTH WORKERS AND QUARANTINE STAFF TO GET THE JAB FIRST 

Health workers and staff at the Howard Springs Covid-19 quarantine facility will be among the first Northern Territorians vaccinated against the virus.

The first Pfizer vaccine jabs are expected to be administered next week although which day is still being worked out with the federal government, Chief Minister Michael Gunner says.

Age and disability care residents, hospital staff and border control workers, including police and airport personnel, will also be prioritised during the first stage of the vaccine rollout to about 3000 people.

‘We are starting small but the most important thing is, we are starting,’ Mr Gunner told reporters on Monday.

‘Phase 1A covers our most vulnerable and at-risk frontline workers based on expert health advice.

‘We aren’t releasing the full plan yet because nobody has the full plan yet.

Over the course of the pandemic about 200,000 Australians have gone through mandatory hotel quarantine

Over the course of the pandemic about 200,000 Australians have gone through mandatory hotel quarantine

‘This is the largest and most complex vaccine rollout seen in the Territory, in the country, in the world.’

Logistics for rolling out the vaccine to remote Indigenous communities are still being worked out.

‘The Commonwealth will be a huge part of the rollout in the Territory, more so than any other jurisdiction given the unique challenges we face here,’ Mr Gunner said.

‘We will need to implement some pretty complex storage and delivery methods across the Territory.’

Royal Darwin Hospital will be the hub for the first phase of the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at minus 70C.

Breaking down the Pfizer trays of 50 vaccine vials – which are very fragile and cannot be shaken – is also expected to be challenging.

Mr Gunner said the Commonwealth’s second allocation of vaccine should allow NT Health to deliver the second dose of the virus to the first recipients and start on the second phase of the rollout about 21 days after the first jabs are administered.

Alice Springs will become the second hub, with the second phase expected to start in mid-to-late March to health care workers not vaccinated in the first phase: police, firefighters emergency workers and Defence personnel.

Health workers and staff at the Howard Springs Covid-19 quarantine facility will be among the first Northern Territorians vaccinated against the virus

Health workers and staff at the Howard Springs Covid-19 quarantine facility will be among the first Northern Territorians vaccinated against the virus

Territorians aged 70 and over, Indigenous Australians over 55 and young adults with medical conditions or a disability will also be vaccinated.

Currently, only Darwin and Alice Springs have facilities able to store the vaccine at Pfizer vaccine.

Territorians are also expected to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine once the Therapeutics Good Administration review is completed.

Its less extreme refrigeration temperature requirements are likely to see it used in remote communities.

Vaccine rollout chief Michelle McKay said health officials were awaiting more information from vaccine manufacturers and the Commonwealth about safely transporting the vaccines.

General practitioners and Aboriginal health clinics are expected to deliver the jabs.

Darwin may also become a hub for Australia to roll the vaccine out to other nations.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk