The Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield areas will enter full lockdown for 48 hours from 1pm today.
Health authorities urged residents to stay calm and follow the health advice. Territory’s Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, flagged the lockdown could continue beyond the 48 hours.
Mr Gunner said several things scared him about the outbreak, including that 15 people who flew from the mine to Darwin have not been contacted by authorities and the version of the virus circulating appeared to be the highly infectious Delta variant.
“We are expecting more cases … there is a stronger chance that any new cases will have exposure sites which makes the job of tracing and testing much bigger,” he said.
“If we wait and it gets worse it will be too hard to control. So we are taking extreme action right now to stop or slow any spread before the coronavirus is let loose in the territory and that means we need a lockdown.”
Northern Territory health authorities have been racing to contact 244 of the mine worker’s 900 contacts who are still in the territory. All of those who went through Alice Springs have been contacted and are isolating, while there were a further 211 people who flew to Darwin.
Of those, 196 have been contacted but authorities believe a number of the remaining contacts are camping and not in phone contact range. Mr Gunner said they would “assume the worst, assume they are positive, and assume that there are exposure sites” until they successfully made contact with the remaining workers.
Three flights carrying 252 workers have arrived in Perth, and West Australian Premier Mark McGowan said each of the workers were sent a text message and contact tracers were in the process of phoning and speaking to each of them. Of the arrivals, 177 who were on flights on June 22 and June 25 are considered close contacts. None had tested positive as of Sunday.
The Commonwealth has offered various supports to the NT, Mr Hunt said, including more than 4000 testing kits, and asymptomatic testing has been activated. The Royal Flying Doctors services is on standby for rapid deployment and there will be a briefing with the Aboriginal Health sector, Mr Hunt said.
“We have set up a national incident management team to support the Northern Territory response and that is hosted in the National Incident Centre and includes representatives from the National Indigenous Australians agency,” he said.
As of Sunday morning, Victorian health authorities had identified three miners in the state who worked at the Granites gold mine. They are isolating.
“We expect that number to grow as we work with other jurisdictions to identify where those other 900 mine workers have travelled to,” Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said. “We understand they may have travelled fairly widely across Australia.
“If you were at the Granites gold mine between [June 18 and 25], please, stay where you are, isolate, get tested and contact us so we can support you during this isolation period.”
Dr Chant said health authorities were also tracing the worker’s contacts in NSW. “We are asking anyone … who worked at the mine in the NT between the 18th and 26 of June and returned to NSW to immediately isolate and call their local public health unit on 1300 066 055 to arrange urgent testing,” she said.
“Can I just be clear, this case is not linked to our cluster. This is a new exposure related and linked back to Queensland so this person is believed to have been exposed in Queensland.”
With Matt Dennien, Rachel Clun
Stay across the most crucial developments related to the pandemic with the Coronavirus Update. Sign up to receive the weekly newsletter.