NT sets new daily record of 37 COVID cases after Prime Minister says it’s on top of Omicron

The Northern Territory has today registered 37 new COVID-19 cases, which is the highest daily number during the pandemic.

There are 21 people in the hospital, but none in the intensive care unit, with the number of cases in the local outbreak now at 163.

There has now there have been more than 70 new cases of interstate arrivals and close contacts since the borders reopened last Monday.

The update came after Prime Minister Michael Gunner had highlighted possible changes to the isolation rules for frontline close contacts, but said the NT was on top of the risk posed by the Omicron variant behind exploding case numbers between the state.

It also followed today’s emergency meeting of the National Cabinet, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new definition of national close contact would not apply to the NT or WA, and said they would make their own announcements in the coming days.

Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles told reporters the number of cases recorded today was a “significant number” and contact tracing was now underway.

“So at the moment we are not introducing further public health measures, but people certainly need to take their circumstances into account.”

Of the new cases:

  • eight are household contacts of a case reported Christmas day in Katherine
  • eleven are interstate travelers
  • ten are household contacts of domestic arrivals
  • one is a nurse at the Royal Darwin Hospital
  • two are U.S. Marines
  • one works in a mining community on the Groote Eylandt
  • four cases are under investigation

Mrs Fyles said two more cases were registered in persons attending the same Darwin birthday party as a nine-year-old girl who was identified as a case of transfer of society yesterday.

    Outside a cafe, a waitress brings coffee to a group of men sitting at a table.  No one wears a mask
There is no mask mandate in the Northern Territory at present.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

She said authorities assume arrivals between countries had Omicron and those linked to the local cluster had Delta.

Mrs Fyles said a worker at a quarantine facility in Howard Springs had also tested positive, but they were also a known contact person for an interstate traveler, so the source of their infection was under investigation.

New exposure sites have been listed on Territory Government website for coronavirus, including a Christmas Day service at Darwin 7th Day Adventist Church in the CBD.

Across the territory, Ms Fyles said, contact tracers had identified 454 close contacts, 407 of whom had been reached and isolated.

She said there had also been a “significant increase” in the number of tests, 3,600 tests compared to about 1,600 yesterday.

She said authorities were still waiting for updated wastewater test results for Nhulunbuy in northeastern Arnhem Land.

More than 800 tests in the city conducted since Saturday have all yielded negative results.

Insulation rules for tight contacts in the front line may change

Previously, i his first public appearance since taking leave in mid-December, Mr Gunner rejected repeated calls from Aboriginal health groups for an indoor mask mandate, saying the territory’s current public health measures are working at this stage.

A man in a gray shirt smiles as he receives a booster vaccine.
Prime Minister Michael Gunner rejects repeated calls from health experts and Aboriginal groups for a mandate for the indoor mask.(ABC News: Myles Houlbrook-Walk)

He said frontline staff such as nurses, police officers as well as supermarket workers could potentially continue to work under a daily test regime “or something like that”.

“For me, it’s about maintaining services and being practical about it as opposed to maybe changing the definition.”

He said the territory would continue with the demand for a negative PCR test from interstate and overseas arrivals, which has been dropped in some other states due to pressure on the nation’s test systems.

Sir. Gunner said Northern Territory authorities were monitoring the situation in other states and would change local public health settings if the number of cases increased rapidly.

“We have a low risk of intrusion and we are able to stay on top of it [and] our society’s transmission speed is on the floor. ”

An empty warehouse with cones.
The territory’s new COVID-19 testing facility in East Arm opened its doors today.(ABC News: Myles Houlbrook-Walk)

Take action now to prevent NSW situation, says Alice Springs doctor

Sir. Gunner said he would seek advice on why Alice Springs residents were notified via text that they are close, low-risk contacts when no exposure points for the city have been listed.

Alice Springs-based physician John Boffa of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Health Service said the NT should not wait for major community transfers to impose stronger public health measures.

He said the latest daily rate of new cases in the territory was comparable to hundreds of cases in New South Wales on a per capita basis.

“[We have to] be at the forefront of this epidemic in the territory because [the hospital system] can not handle it. “

He said that without stronger restrictions, the northern territory could see more than 250 daily cases in a matter of days.[which] equivalent to 10,000 cases per day in New South Wales “.

He reiterated the call for a mask mandate for indoor environments as well as for large gatherings and the introduction of a vaccine passport system.

He said authorities should list all known public exposure sites so residents can take appropriate precautions.

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