The Northern Territory Health Minister has admitted she doesn’t know the “exact details” of hotel quarantine agreements that she partly blamed for a public health saga that unfolded in Alice Springs earlier this week.
An influx of people arriving from South Australia — which was declared a coronavirus hotspot on Monday — stretched the town’s official quarantine facility to capacity on Tuesday afternoon.
Health Minister Natasha Fyles has maintained that some local hotels are partly responsible for the scramble to find appropriate quarantine venues that followed.
Some arrivals made their way into commercial hotel rooms, while about 70 were eventually flown to the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin and more than 130 were approved to self-isolate at home addresses.
Ms Fyles has insisted that hotels that had previously agreed to quarantine guests reneged on their offer when asked on Tuesday night. A bird strike also delayed an earlier quarantine transport flight.
But she could not specify how or when the agreements were made when she was asked on Thursday.
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“Initially, we talked to a number of accommodation providers around utilising facilities for a range of scenarios,” she said.
“I’m not aware of the exact details, but Government officials worked with accommodation providers and there was a commitment made that if we needed rooms, that we would be able to access them.
“We saw an influx and then we saw a number of the strategies we used to try and ease and get people safely into accommodation not come through.”
Industry group Hospitality NT has disputed the claim, saying the commitments were only made verbally months ago, and it was unclear if staff at the venues in question had been briefed on issues like personal protective equipment and infection control.
In the interview with ABC Alice Springs, Ms Fyles also apologised to those people caught up in the debacle.
Some of those people have described chaotic scenes as they were asked to board a flight to Darwin at short notice and were reportedly threatened with fines if they refused.
“What we saw was fairly unprecedented in terms of South Australia and so many Territorians caught out, and clearly we’ll plan for that better next time. But I do apologise.”
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Almost 30 of the 71 people flown to the Howard Springs facility on Wednesday are from Alice Springs, according to an NT Government spokeswoman.
Ms Fyles said the demand that overwhelmed the system earlier in the week had since eased off and there had since been positive discussions with a “major accommodation provider” about providing beds if demand surged again.
A contract with a commercial hotel drawn up in response to Tuesday’s surge will also be reviewed.
“I will ensure that government officials make sure there are robust plans for different scenarios, so that going forward we’re not in this situation again,” Ms Fyles said.
Failures in hotel quarantine systems have been blamed for coronavirus outbreaks in Melbourne and Adelaide.
The Government’s COVID media team said late on Thursday there had been no further transfers to Darwin.
The number of people in self-isolation in Alice Springs had decreased from 137 to 133.