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NT borders reopen to Sydney during as coronavirus 'quarantine rave' TikTok video emerges

ABC Health logo ABC Health 9/10/2020 By Lauren Roberts

An apparent "quarantine rave" inside the Howard Springs quarantine facility in Darwin is being investigated by police, the Northern Territory Government says.

The investigation follows the emergence of a TikTok video showing a group of people — some of whom were not wearing masks or adhering to the 1.5-metre physical distance requirement — dancing together outside their rooms within the facility.

People quarantining at the facility have been provided with facemasks that NT Health says "must be worn at all times" when people are outside their rooms.

Robert Parker, head of the Australian Medical Association's Northern Territory branch, criticised the behaviour seen in the video.

"Quarantine is quarantine, it's not a holiday," Dr Parker said.

He said the video was "probably the tip of the iceberg" of potential poor behaviour at the facility and said he was disappointed at the conduct of people seeking to enter the NT.

"This bug is potentially very dangerous, and we have a very vulnerable population [in the Northern Territory]," he said.

"People should be sticking to their pods."

Dr Parker said the video suggested security at the facility could be improved to ensure those staying there abided by the rules of health authorities.

The offices of Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Health Minister Natasha Fyles directed questions about the incident to the Government's COVID-19 Operations Centre.

A spokeswoman for the centre declined to answer questions about the incident on Friday, saying a police investigation was underway.

Anxiety as Sydney arrivals flow into NT

Dr Parker also said he was "very concerned" about the NT reopening its borders to Sydney today as NSW health authorities confirmed five new locally acquired COVID-19 cases.

The Northern Territory Government yesterday confirmed it would push ahead with plans to reopen its borders to Greater Sydney, allowing all new arrivals from New South Wales to travel freely throughout the NT without undergoing quarantine.

He said Sydneysiders should have remained barred until more was known about a case at the city's Macquarie University.

On Thursday, Macquarie University's vice-chancellor confirmed a student had tested positive and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was expecting to see more cases linked to the Liverpool Hospital cluster in the coming days.

"We need to wait for a week," Dr Parker said.

"Macquarie University could potentially be a major outbreak."

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However, epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws from the University of NSW said the situation was under control.

"I don't believe its a risk of spreading into the Northern Territory," she said.

Professor McLaws said although there had been eight new locally acquired infections in the 24 hours to 8.00pm on Wednesday, most of the cases could be traced back to two clusters.

Five of the eight are linked to a the Liverpool Hospital cluster, and the other three cases are connected, although the original source is still being investigated.

Professor McLaws said there would continue to be the "occasional" COVID-19 case in New South Wales due to its large population size and contact tracing in the state was very good.

Northern Land Council chief executive Marion Scrymgour said while she was reassured by Professor McLaws' comments, she remained cautious.

"I, like most of the Aboriginal sector, have a lot of concerns … we need to make sure our mob are going to be safe," she said.

"The fear is that if it spreads, and it gets into a community, it would be catastrophic."

Ms Scrymgour said there would be a permit system in place for people visiting remote communities, but urged travellers to listen to health advice and to stay home if they were unwell.

"At the end of the day, it gets down to, if people are coming into the Northern Territory, they have to do the right thing," she said.

"And if they are not doing the right thing, there's got to be some consequences for that."

But John Paterson from the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory said the Government's decision to push ahead with the border reopening was alarming.

"We should have just waited a couple of more days — 48 hours — and over the weekend and review it again early next week and see what's going to happen early next week," Mr Paterson said.

Yesterday, NT Deputy Chief Health Officer Charles Pain said the decision to lift the hotspot was "considered carefully" and was safe because the Sydney outbreak is "controlled and contained".

"The actual definition for a hotspot which we have been working on for some time … is five cases in a local area of community transmission. So we're nowhere near that threshold," he said.

"This is a key message to us all. We will see these cases, we don't know where they will pop up, we don't know when they will happen so we have to be vigilant about this."

In response to questions about why the Government did not hold off on re-opening the border to Sydney, the spokeswoman said they had been following the advice of "trusted health experts" throughout the pandemic and that would continue.

"Every time we've made a change based on expert advice, we've been told it is the wrong decision. But we continue to be the safest place in Australia," she said.

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