The Northern Territory (NT) Labor Government is extending the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency for an extra 90 days until new legislation, expected to pass in May, provides transitional powers to the Chief Health Officer.
This comes as NT COVID-19 case numbers continue to decrease, as do hospitalisations due to the virus.
NT Chief Health Officer (CHO) Hugh Heggie told reporters on Wednesday that despite declining numbers, the emergency will remain in place because there will be a long tail to the pandemic, and there are a lot of people who are still unvaccinated.
“So the 90 days still means that we’re going to try and get everybody who needs to be vaccinated, and that’s the people who are actually going to be affected,” he said.
“Myself, I had my fourth dose of the COVID vaccine yesterday, and it’s likely in three months I’ll have a fifth dose because the vaccines, the reduction in antibodies in the blood after six weeks of the vaccine, start to go down.”
Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the NT Government would introduce a bill to amend the Act, allowing the CHO to gain transitional powers to manage the pandemic emergency for up to two years following the discontinuance of the emergency declaration.
“We intend to introduce legislation in the March parliamentary sittings that will be a transitional provision of two years, so we anticipate this will be the last time that we sign the public health emergency that we have used throught COVID,” she said.
Heggie said the legislation is an exit stategy from the public emergency, through which the CHO will be able to enact localised responses, continuing to provide recommendations about public health issues related to Omicron and any future variants.
He stressed that decisions made under the new powers will “go through the same processes that these declarations and decisions for CHO directions have been going through for the past two years,” adding that under the new legislation he is required to report to the parliament on how he has used his emergency powers over the past two years.
Meanwhile, the NT Government has confirmed that it won’t be renewing its contract with the Alice Springs Quarantine Facility, with operations due to cease on May 11.
This will see the return of 100 rooms to the local accommodation pool to support tourism in Central Australia, while quarantine staff at the facility are being briefed and supported with alternative employment options.
Over the past two years, more than 3,800 people have completed their quarantine at the facility.