Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the Northwest Territories government is awaiting a “firm deal” between Darwin Airport and the Commonwealth government on a plan that would see international repatriation arrivals processed at Darwin airport.
- Government says it follows a recommendation from Australia’s head nurse
- Mr Gunner says the RAAF base handles arrivals during the rainy season.
- NT opposition says government ‘experiments’ amid health emergency
Currently, people arriving in Darwin on repatriation flights disembark at the RAAF Darwin base.
The RAAF base shares a runway with Darwin Airport, but is a separate piece of infrastructure from the commercial airport.
On Monday, Mr Gunner confirmed that the NT government was pursuing changes after a February review of its infectious disease control processes by Australia’s chief nurse.
On Tuesday morning, Mr Gunner suggested he wanted international arrivals to be handled at Darwin Airport ahead of the Top End rainy season, which typically started around November.
“The main concern was that the RAAF base was dealing with overseas arrivals during the rainy season and how it was built for it,” Gunner told ABC Radio Darwin.
On Monday, the NT police commissioner, highlighting issues noted in the head nurse’s examination, said handling rainy season arrivals through the RAAF base presented challenges “not just for comfort. for those who have been repatriated, but also for the staff “.
NT’s acting health chief Charles Pain said Monday that the head nurse’s recommendation was “strictly based on the safest option” for handling international arrivals in the Northern Territory.
Despite the recommendation, Gunner said the NT government was “in no rush” to see the changes made.
Dr Pain also said that there had not been “a great sense of urgency” due to the success of the RAAF base in dealing with arrivals so far.
Agreement still not in place
Mr Gunner said the NT government, the Australian government and Darwin Airport had worked on a deal that would see repatriation arrivals processed at Darwin Airport, but admitted no deal had been reached. .
The company that owns Darwin International Airport, the Airport Development Group (ADG), has confirmed that it is in talks with the two governments.
But ADG said the airport would require significant work before it could process repatriated Australians safely away from domestic arrivals, including installing separate walls and independent air conditioning units.
On Thursday, Mr Chalker said the airport renovations would include “a complete sterile corridor” between the international side and the inner side of Darwin airport.
Opposition says now is not the time to ‘experiment’
Northern Territory opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro said the government “is once again tinkering with a system which, until now, has kept the Northern Territory free from community transmission.”
“The Chief Minister and the Minister of Health are changing a simple and well established process that has worked without incident for over 12 months,” she said.
“The last thing the Gunner government should do is experiment and change processes in the midst of this health emergency.”
The NT government recently took control of the management of the international quarantine program at Howard Springs. Since then, he has made a series of changes that have raised concerns among health experts and the NT opposition.
Last month, the NT government confirmed it had abandoned rapid antigen testing for the daily screening of quarantine staff in Howard Springs in favor of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
The changes, according to an epidemiologist, could increase the likelihood of an infection violation at the quarantine facility.
A nurses union also raised concerns about changes to PPE requirements and staff housing arrangements under the leadership of the NT government.
“Despite the Chief Minister’s promise that there would be no significant procedural changes… we have seen serious clinical changes,” said Ms. Finocchiaro.