Northern Territory Police have confirmed that the three people who absconded from the Howard Springs quarantine facility on the outskirts of Darwin on Wednesday morning have been found.
This comes after it was reported that they scaled the fence and fled the area at 4:40 a.m. on Wednesday.
The three absconders, all teenagers from Binjari, near Katherine, are close contacts from that community and have been taken back to Howard Springs.
Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said they were located on the outskirts of Palmerston, a planned satellite city of Darwin 10km from Howard Springs. They had tried to flee when they spotted police but were ultimately apprehended.
Chalker said it’s likely that loneliness and isolation contributed to the trio’s decision to abscond, considering they are accustomed to living in overcrowded conditions rather than in a single room alone.
“We cannot have human resources on every single access and egress point,” he said, adding that the preference is clearly for people to remain in the facility and that anyone needing support within the centre should contact staff there.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner confirmed via social media that the trio tested negative to COVID-19 on Tuesday, and it is unlikely that they had any contact with members of the community while on the run, so the health risk to the community is low.
“But there is absolutely no excuse for the actions of these three this morning,” he said.
Gunner emphasised that Howard Springs is not a prison but not a playground either and that it’s strict because it has to be.
“The staff at the Centre are doing an incredible job—the best job that they can in the circumstances they face, and I thank them for their work,” he said.
However, he did sympathise with those in quarantine, particularly people who are used to being close to their families and community.
The three teenagers are not the first to abscond. A man who was on day 13 of his quarantine allegedly fled the facility on Friday evening but was apprehended later that night in a Darwin pub. He also tested negative to COVID-19 and is unlikely to have posed a threat to the community.
Meanwhile, as of midday Wednesday, three new positive cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the Territory in the past 24 hours, two of whom are flight crew from the recent London flight and close contacts of the initial positive case from that flight, Minister Gunner said in a social media post.
They are both in the Howard Springs facility, and genomic sequencing is underway to determine which variant they are carrying.
The third case is a Binjari infant who has been in quarantine at Howard Springs with family for the entire infectious period.
The total number of active COVID-19 cases in the Territory now stands at 59.