African arrival among two new cases of NT

The Northern Territory has two new cases of COVID-19, one an arrival on a repatriation flight from South Africa where the new highly mutated Omicron variant has been detected.

Authorities do not yet have genomic sequencing in relation to the infectious strain of the passenger, said Health Minister Natasha Fyles.

However, the person has been in monitored quarantine at the Howard Springs National Facility, south of Darwin, since arriving, she told reporters on Saturday.

“So there is a very low risk to the community and we wish that person the best of luck,” Ms. Fyles said.

The Omicron variant, designated as “special concern” by the World Health Organization, has been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.

It has double the number of mutations as the Delta variant which triggered a third wave of outbreaks and lockdowns in Australia this year.

NT chief health officer Dr Charles Pain said he expects the results of the sequencing tests for the South African case to be processed by Monday.

The passenger arrived in Darwin on Thursday and his positive virus result was confirmed on Friday evening.

The other infection from the Northern Territory was acquired locally and involves a 50-year-old man from Katherine who is a family contact of an existing case.

He was also housed at Howard Springs throughout his infectious period and is considered a no-risk.

The Katherine cluster now has 53 cases in total, Ms Fyle said. However, all pending test results for the outbreak came back negative on Saturday.

As a result, Katherine went from being locked out to being locked out at noon local time.

“So anyone who is fully vaccinated in the area is now free to go about their daily business,” said Ms. Fyles.

“They will need to wear a mask and… please be sure to check in when you are on the move.”

Unvaccinated residents remain subject to lockdown orders until December 7, with the community currently 78% fully immune.

Meanwhile, a man has been arrested at a Darwin bar after breaking quarantine in Howard Springs on day 13 of his period of isolation.

Police said the 27-year-old was seen climbing the fence before being picked up by a white ute on Friday evening.

He was then arrested at an authorized location on Mitchell Street in Darwin around midnight.

Police returned the man to the quarantine center, where he was tested for COVID-19 and returned a negative result.

Officers are now investigating the incident, including looking for those involved in the man’s kidnapping outside the camp.

Ms Fyles said she was “extremely disappointed” with the episode and that practices at Howard Springs would be reviewed as well.

Some 95% of local residents have now received a first dose of vaccine while 86% are fully immunized.

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