12 Apr NT Health says community spread of coronavirus ‘probably…
The NT recorded its first locally acquired COVID-19 case on Friday after a woman in her 20s tested positive to coronavirus while in self-quarantine, but it was not community transmission.
- To date, there have been 26 cases of COVID-19 in the NT
- On Friday, the Territory recorded its first case of person-to-person contact
- As yet, neither the NT or the ACT have a confirmed case of community transmission
The woman was a close family contact of another Territorian who tested positive after returning to Darwin from overseas, and it was the first person-to-person coronavirus case recorded in the NT.
It did not meet the criteria to be classed as a community transmission, NT Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie told ABC Radio Darwin.
Dr Heggie said because the virus was acquired by an isolated person in a quarantining house, it was classed as person-to-person transmission whereas community transmission was when someone contracted the virus from the general community.
NT Centre for Disease Control director Vicki Krause added that the woman’s diagnosis could be traced back to a “close contact” from a known source.
“Community transmission is when an acquired case cannot be traced back to a close contact and in this instance, this was a family member that was classified as a close contact,” she said.
Both Dr Heggie and Chief Minister Michael Gunner say the NT has no recorded cases of community transmission, and have both claimed the Territory is the only jurisdiction in Australia without it.
But a spokesman for the ACT Health Directorate said there had been no confirmed cases of community transmission of COVID-19 in the ACT either — although one case remained under investigation due to its unknown origin.
NT ‘learning from other states’
NT Health chief executive officer Catherine Stoddart said there were a number of reasons why the Territory had not yet seen any community transmission.
“We do have a smaller population, and we do have a lot of landmass for this virus to get around,” she said.
“But we’ve also put in place some fairly strong border measures the measures that we have at a whole of state level.”
Professor Stoddart said the NT recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 much later than other Australian jurisdictions.
NSW and Victoria reported the country’s first four cases on January 25, and it was not until March 4 when a 52-year-old man tested positive for COVID-19 in Darwin, becoming the first confirmed case in the Northern Territory.
“We’re lucky, we’re learning from other states,” Professor Stoddart said.
“It doesn’t mean we won’t get community transmission but we’ve had to put the systems in place to manage for it.”
Professor Stoddart said other measures that helped reduce the chance of community spread were the closure of NT borders and changes made under the Biosecurity Act, which meant anyone other than essential service workers wanting to enter a remote community must now self-isolate for 14 days prior.
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Professor Stoddart did, however, warn against complacency.
“I think we have to accept that it’s probably inevitable that we will have some community spread,” she said.
“We’re hoping that will be very small and discrete and we will be able to manage that in perhaps a different way to how other jurisdictions have.”
Professor Stoddart said the NT had completed about 2,500 COVID-19 tests to date, which was far fewer than other states but — per capita — was on par with testing numbers in larger states.
“I’m very confident we are testing the right people,” she said.
“And in some cases, we might choose to test people that we feel are particularly vulnerable, and that’s beyond what the national guidelines say.”
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Will we see fewer cases now?
Dr Krause was confident that, moving forward, there would be fewer cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in the Territory.
She said there were currently over 100 people quarantining in the NT, and people returning from overseas or interstate had been the “highest risk to date”.
“We are seeing certainly in Australia that the rate of cases diagnosed every day is decreasing,” Dr Krause said.
“Last week it was about a 13 per cent increase, yesterday was only about a 4 per cent increase so we are seeing a downturn because of the measures that are being put in place.”
Professor Stoddart said the turnout time for tests was maximum of 48 hours, but as they developed more capacity in Alice Springs, NT Health was hopeful the turnaround would drop to about 24 hours.
She also said NT Health was planning for the pandemic to last about six months and was prepared — with two weeks’ supply of PPE and 50 ICU beds across the NT with ventilators.
To prepare for more COVID-19 cases, Professor Stoddart said NT Health had also postponed elective surgeries, been training nurses to go into the ICU as needed, and had “stood up” a drive-through testing facility in Howard Springs, which could house patients with mild cases of COVID-19.
Dr Heggie urged Territorians to stay indoors, to limit their contact with others and to listen to national health advice.
“People should take it seriously, it’s so serious,” he said.
“The focus will be really sharpened when we have our first death.”
How do I get tested in the NT?
- If you can’t contact or get to your GP, but you have the symptoms, you should call 1800 008 002
- This is a dedicated NT-wide coronavirus (COVID-19) number for people who need to arrange testing only
- If you live in Darwin and need to arrange testing, call the Public Health Unit on 8922 8044
- Patients who are tested should remain isolated at home until they receive their test results
- For general advice, Territorians can call 1800 020 080
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