Northern Territory records first case of COVID-19 community transmission

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The Northern Territory has recorded its first community transmission case of COVID-19, Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced at a late-night press conference.

Katherine, about 300 kilometres south of Darwin, will enter a 72-hour lockdown lasting until midnight on Sunday.

Mr Gunner said the case is a man aged in his 20s who is a contract worker at RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) Base Tindal, outside of Katherine. He is not vaccinated.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the man’s exposure period “potentially” dated back to October 19.Credit:Facebook/Michael Gunner

“The man has not travelled outside of the Territory recently,” he said at the press conference, held about 10pm local time on Thursday. “That means he caught the virus inside the Territory. We don’t know where, and we don’t know when but this is community transmission.”

Mr Gunner said the man developed symptoms on Tuesday and was tested on Wednesday before a “strong positive” result was confirmed on Thursday night.

He said the man’s exposure period “potentially” dated back to October 19, and he was infectious in the community from October 31 to November 2.

The man lives in both Katherine and the town of Humpty Doo, to the south-east of Darwin, and had recently spent time in Darwin, Darwin’s rural area and Katherine during his infectious period. His housemates at both locations are in isolation and will be tested and interviewed.

Mr Gunner said the man is isolating in Katherine and will soon be transferred to the Centre for National Resilience quarantine facility in Howard Springs.

“Right now, this bloke has no idea how he caught COVID, and neither do we,” Mr Gunner said.

Katherine residents, including those in Tindal, must stay home except for five reasons: medical treatment including COVID-19 testing or vaccination; for essential goods and services; for essential work that cannot be done at home; for one hour of exercise per day with one other person of their household and no further than five kilometres from home; or for caregiving and support needs. Masks are mandatory when people leave their homes.

Mr Gunner said the lockdown, which applies to those vaccinated and unvaccinated, was because authorities did not know the source of the infection. The man had also spent a “full day” working while infectious at Tindal, and Katherine’s vaccination rate is under 80 per cent.

Greater Darwin, including Palmerston and the rural area, will be in “lockout” for the 72-hour period, but a lockdown is not ruled out if circumstances change. Under the “lockout”, fully vaccinated people can go to work, go shopping and visit the home of other fully vaccinated people however masks will be mandatory.

Unvaccinated people in the Greater Darwin region are under lockdown and can only leave home for one of the five reasons. They must also stay within the region for the next three days.

NT Health’s Dr Charles Pain said the measures were necessary because “we aren’t yet ready for this”.

“Our vaccination rates are very good, but they’re not good enough yet,” he said. “It’s our nightmare that is here now. We’ve expected it and we knew it would come.”

According to the latest federal government figures, the Territory has first-dose vaccination coverage for its 16 and over population of 77.8 per cent, and 64.7 per cent double-dose.

Five exposure sites have been identified, including the Monsoons Nightclub in Darwin at any time on Friday, October 29. Mr Gunner said it was a “distinct possibility” the man caught the virus at this location and further updates will be provided on Friday.

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