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NT records another 10 COVID cases in quarantine as Howard Springs boss says facility 'under control'

The head of the specialist health team running the highly praised Howard Springs quarantine facility says "stops and checks" are in place to ensure the system is not overburdened, as the NT records a surge in coronavirus cases from repatriated flights from India.

Key points:

  • The Northern Territory has recorded 10 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours
  • The head of AUSMAT says protocols are in place to ensure Howard Springs is not "overburdened"
  • The CHO has issued new test and quarantine requirements amid a WA lockdown

Incoming US marines and arrivals from India have pushed the NT's COVID-19 cases up by 10 in the last 24 hours, taking the current tally of positive cases to 48.

"If we get to a particular point, say in excess of 10 or 12 per cent, we would slow down the flights and indeed be very cautious in terms of how many people we actually took on," the executive director of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Center, Professor Len Notaras, said.

India has become the new global epicenter of COVID-19, smashing records with more than 330,000 daily infections.

And as infection rates continue to climb at Howard Springs, concerns have been raised about the NT government's ability to manage the facility as it plans to take the reins from the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Center (NCCTRC) and Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT ).

Deputy opposition leader Gerard Maley said that as the NT takes on more repatriated Australians, it is especially important positive cases do not put pressure on the health system.

"The Northern Territory only has a certain amount of ICU beds," he said.

But at a press conference in Darwin on Saturday, professor Notaras tried to quell any fears of strain, saying "everything is completely under control".

"We will maintain the very high level of dealing with those particular people," he said.

PM flags flight reduction as India sets a global record

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said National Cabinet had agreed to temporarily reduce the number of incoming flights from India by 30 per cent "in the coming months" as the government irons out the details with overseas officials.

National Cabinet also agreed that people coming from high-risk countries, which would include India, will have to return a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their flight back to Australia.

Professor Notaras backed the move and said a slowing of the flights provides time to "recalibrate" and "ensure all systems are in place and maintained at the high level they should be maintained at".

He said that while it was important the facility was not "overburdened" with positive COVID cases, the repatriation flights were a "humanitarian response".

"We're bringing vulnerable Australians back home, people who have been out of this country for in some cases up to 18 months."

NT managing 48 positive cases

The 10 positive cases include two females and four males who arrived on a repatriation flight from Chennai, India, on April 15, and two females who arrived on a repatriation flight from New Delhi on April 17.

The new cases bring the totally positive coronavirus cases recorded from the two repatriation flights to 43.

Two US marines, who arrived as part of an annual training rotation, also tested positive for COVID-19 after landing separately into Darwin on April 12 and 14.

According to the NT government, nine of the cases are asymptomatic, while one female who arrived on the repatriation flight from New Delhi is showing mild symptoms.

At a press conference on Saturday, NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles confirmed two COVID-19 cases were being cared for at the Royal Darwin Hospital.

She also revealed an additional "PPE protocol breach" had taken place following reports on Friday a staff member at Royal Darwin Hospital was not wearing the full suite of protective gear.

She said the second incident involved a paramedic who was transporting an active case.

"We have had two breaches of PPE which have been identified and protocols have been put in place ... and of course the situation has been clinically reviewed," she said.

"We have got clinical staff at the hospital and also our paramedics who have been going above and beyond for many months now, they continuously wear PPE even when it might be seen as not necessary."

New test and quarantine requirements

As parts of Western Australia are thrown into a snap three-day lockdown, NT Chief Health Officer Charles Pain has introduced new test and quarantine directions.

In a statement issued on Saturday morning, Dr Pain said arrivals to the Territory who traveled on flight QF778 from Perth to Melbourne on Wednesday April 21 must now undertake 14 days of mandatory quarantine at Howard Springs.

The new advice comes after the Victorian Department of Health listed the flight as a "high-risk COVID-19 exposure site", the statement said.

Dr Pain has also directed travelers who transited though Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport Terminal One between 6:30 pm and 7.30pm on Wednesday April 21, to quarantine at home until returning a negative COVID-19 test.

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"In response to further advice I received at AHPPC last night and the listing of QF778 and Tullamarine Terminal One as exposure sites by Victorian health authorities, I have expanded our testing and quarantine directions to protect the NT community," he said.

"These directions affect those who may have arrived into the Northern Territory who have come into contact with COVID-19 while in transit this week."

A total of 6,668 people have arrived in Darwin on repatriation flights since October last year, of which 117 have tested positive to COVID-19.

The total number of positive coronavirus cases reported in the Territory is 160, with all cases relating to international or interstate travel.

There have been no cases of community transmission in the NT to date.