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NT to remove Sydney COVID-19 hotspot status as NSW outbreak grows to eight

ABC Health logo ABC Health 8/10/2020 By Steve Vivian
a view of a large body of water with a city in the background: The NT's Deputy Chief Health Officer says a "thorough review" was conducted into Sydney's recent outbreak. (ABC/Unsplash: Daniel Chen) © Provided by ABC Health The NT's Deputy Chief Health Officer says a "thorough review" was conducted into Sydney's recent outbreak. (ABC/Unsplash: Daniel Chen)

The Northern Territory will open its borders to arrivals from Greater Sydney on Friday as the extent of an infection outbreak in the city remains unknown.

The Northern Territory Government first announced its intention to lift the hotspot declaration on Greater Sydney last month, saying arrivals from Sydney could freely enter the NT if there was a continued "downward trend of cases".

But an outbreak of coronavirus across Western Sydney, with NSW authorities confirming eight locally acquired infections in the past 36 hours, compelled the NT Government to seek further health advice before deciding to lift the hotspot declaration.

This afternoon, 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".

Dr Pain's comments came hours after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she expected to see more cases identified from the Western Sydney clusters in the coming days.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also not ruled out extending border restrictions with NSW in the wake of the outbreak.

On Thursday, Ms Palaszczuk said NSW health authorities had 24 hours to trace the origins of the cases before potentially delaying a November 1 opening between the states.

But Dr Pain said a meeting with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee — the national conference of chief health officers — indicated the outbreak was a minimal threat to the Northern Territory.

"The reason for this is that we have had a very thorough review of these cases … the NSW Chief Health Officer provided us with details of those cases and we are confident that they are all connected and therefore they constitute a single outbreak," Dr Pain said.

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"This means that there's no established community transmission by the definition that we have and we're confident that the outbreak itself is controlled and contained.

"We're very confident that the testing regime and the contact tracing in NSW is of a very high standard, and we are therefore happy with our plan to open [Friday]."

When the hotspot declaration lifts at 12:01am Friday, arrivals from Greater Sydney will no longer be required to enter a two-week period at their own expense in a Government-approved facility.

Dr Pain conceded opening the Northern Territory up to Sydney arrivals equated to a greater health risk, but that the risk was "acceptable".

"We are gradually opening up. We are opening up to more risk, of course we are," he said.

"But we are opening up to a very low risk and what we think is an acceptable risk.

"We cannot guarantee [coronavirus] will not get into the Northern Territory … we can keep ourselves and our borders up for months and months and months but we know what the consequences of that are. We know what the consequences of lockdowns are.

"We are going to have to adapt."

When asked for the CLP's stance on lifting the Greater Sydney hotspot, Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said the decision "should be guided by the expert health advice".

Dr Pain strongly endorsed the use of face masks by Territorians as the jurisdiction's risk profile increases.

"I'd like to see people starting to wear masks. I'd be delighted to see people starting to wear them. I think that would be a signal to everyone that we are taking those behaviours seriously," he said.

Dr Pain also warned against lax physical distancing he has seen creep into the Northern Territory, which could undermine public health.

"Anyone who walks around the streets, particularly in enclosed spaces, in supermarkets … people are often not maintaining 1.5 [metres]," he said.

"There are times where you see in public that people clearly don't know each other and aren't maintaining distance."

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