Some people living in remote communities, such as the elderly and those with existing medical conditions, are particularly at risk of complications from COVID-19. Isolation and remoteness can help delay or potentially prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in remote communities. However, high mobility of community members and a reliance on outreach activities and services increases the risk of COVID-19 occurring in these communities. Health authorities are ready to respond quickly if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs.
Governments are working together to protect remote communities from COVID-19 by restricting non-essential movement into remote communities. On 26 March 2020, the Minister for Health made a determination under the Biosecurity Act 2015 to formalise these arrangements and strengthened the arrangements for essential personnel with an amendment on 7 April 2020. This determination is available on the Federal Register of Legislation.
The key elements are:
- Anyone wishing to enter a designated area will need to self-isolate for 14 days before they can enter.
- People should remain in their communities and limit unnecessary travel, unless it is essential for them to leave for medical treatment.
- If you leave your community and travel outside the area where travel restrictions apply, you will not be able to return unless you self-isolate for 14 days.
- Governments will support people who do not have appropriate alternate arrangements to self-isolate.
- Essential service personnel can keep delivering important services and supplies in accordance with human biosecurity management plans or in urgent circumstances.
On 24 April 2020, the Minister for Health made minor changes to designated areas in the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia and enabled maritime workers to enter designated areas under the strict requirements set out under the Determination.
On 21 May 2020, the Minister for Health made further changes to the Determination. These include:
- From 5 June 2020, the remote travel restrictions will be lifted in the NT by removing the NT from the areas designated under the Determination. The NT government will have arrangements in place to manage the risk of outbreaks in remote communities consistent with the Framework [insert link in text] agreed by National Cabinet on 15 May 2020.
- Persons conducting work in connection with an election will be able to enter a designated area with a human biosecurity management plan.
- Officials performing functions relating to public health or biosecurity for requirements on the export of food or agricultural commodities will be able to enter designated areas.
- Oil rig and platform workers will be able to enter a designated area while transiting to or from rigs and platforms with a human biosecurity management plan.
- Vessels (excluding cruise ships) that carry crew that have been in a foreign country in the last 14 days will be able to dock at a port that is in a designated area. Crew will be required to stay on board the vessel.
- Immediate changes to NT designated areas – additional areas near Katherine and Tennant Creek will be removed from the designated areas and the description of areas surrounding Alice Springs has been clarified. Part of Nitmiluk National Park has been excluded.
- Immediate changes to SA designated areas - the community of Davenport will be removed from the designated areas.
On 3 June 2020, the Minister for Health amended the Determination to lift remote travel restrictions in WA from 5 June. This was done at the request of the WA government, which consulted extensively with the Aboriginal controlled health sector and communities prior to making its request.
QLD and SA have designated where travel restrictions apply and are responsible for implementing the arrangements for these restrictions. The designated areas are indicated on the following maps:
State and Territory Governments have responsibility for managing the restrictions while they are in place. Travel restrictions for remote communities will be in place until September with some communities working with the Government on lifting restrictions earlier.
The Department of Health have prepared a framework to help Governments and communities decide when to lift restrictions in a safe way.
State and Territory Governments can request all or part of the remote travel restrictions to be lifted in their jurisdiction, in consultation with affected communities. The final decision to remove an area from the Determination is a matter for the Commonwealth Minister for Health. Jurisdictions will need to ensure they have arrangements in place to manage the risk of an outbreak in remote communities consistent with the Framework agreed by National Cabinet on 15 May 2020.
More information is available from each jurisdiction:
- Queensland: 13 QGOV (13 7468) or travel restrictions to remote communities website.
- South Australia: 1800 253 787 or the travel restrictions website.
The Department of Health has prepared a flow chart to provide guidance to service providers, government agencies and businesses on how to safely access designated areas.
Essential goods and services exemptions
Travel to remote communities for emergencies and for continuation of essential services will continue to be exempt from any travel restrictions to ensure services can still be delivered to all communities.
Community Night Patrol funding
Continuing to ensure community members are safe with the information and support they need is important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To support this, the Australian Government is contributing up to $10 million over two financial years (2019-2021) to boost Community Night Patrols to help maintain safety within communities, and ensure travel restrictions and physical distancing requirements are communicated and supported. The NIAA will be working with existing service providers to do this.
This includes support to providers to expand or alter current services to meet local needs and support local communication to assist with understanding and complying with travel and social distancing requirements.
The National Indigenous Australians Agency will be working with existing providers to:
- respond to current and emerging safety needs of communities,
- identify where the Community Night Patrol is best placed to support local action –such as supporting safe transport for return to country, expanding to day patrols and providing information relating to COVID-19, and
- work with state and territory governments to support communities.
Additional funding for Northern Territory Land Councils
The four Land Councils in the Northern Territory are being supported to allow them to address immediate needs and expenses associated with people returning to homelands, people who may be required to self-isolate and to deal with the remote travel restrictions.
This may include temporary accommodation if needed to reduce over-crowding, travel assistance, small scale infrastructure and equipment such as generators, portable water tanks or other important items for living on country.
This funding is being made available from the Aboriginals Benefit Account. Funding will not be recurrent, cannot be used for cash payments and is not intended to substitute payment for goods or services provided by the Northern Territory Government.
The funding provides $4 million each for the Northern Land Council and Central Land Council and $1 million each for Tiwi Land Council and Anindilyakwa Land Council. Funding is paid from the Aboriginals Benefit Account.
Land councils will be required to record and report expenditure on a monthly basis, including through each land council annual report.
Further information on the remote travel restrictions in the Northern Territory is available from the remote travel hotline: 1800 518 189 and the NT designated area website.