Northern Territory’s Howard Springs Quarantine Absconders Apprehended

By Steve Milne
Steve Milne
Steve Milne
December 20, 2021 Updated: December 20, 2021

Two teenagers who absconded from the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs COVID-19 quarantine facility on Sunday afternoon were caught just a few hours later.

According to an NT Police media release, the two 16-year-old girls, both from Katherine, were almost at the end of their quarantine period and had tested negative to COVID-19 on their most recent test.

They absconded from the facility at around 3:30 p.m., only to be apprehended in Bakewell, around 8km west of Howard Springs at about 7 p.m. They were then taken back to the quarantine centre.

Police used a combination of resources to locate the duo, including general duties officers, drones, the dog operations unit and CCTV operators.

According to Incident Controller Acting Commander Virginia Read, the girls were not likely to be a risk to the community.

“Their COVID-19 tests have all been negative, and while we believe they were not infectious, their actions clearly contravened the Chief Health Officer’s Directions,” she said.

This comes after several detainees, most of whom are teenagers, have absconded from the Howard Springs facility over the past two months.

Around the end of November, three Aboriginal teenagers from Binjari scaled the fence at the centre but were later 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.

Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said it’s likely that loneliness and isolation contributed to the trio’s decision to abscond, considering they are accustomed to living in crowded 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.”

The Epoch Times reached out to the Northern Territory Minister for Health to find out what mental health support was available to residents at Howard Springs but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

According to coronavirus.nt.gov.au, people in quarantine at either the Howard Springs or Alice Springs quarantine centres must stay in their allocated room, which includes a veranda, unless given permission by an authorised officer.

They cannot leave the designated quarantine zone in which their room is located unless accompanied by an authorised officer, except in case of emergency.

In addition, they must wear a mask when outside their room and must not assemble in a quarantine zone.

As  COVID-19 can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces, physical objects cannot be shared among residents who are not family members. Therefore, residents cannot play cards or other games and mustn’t hand any objects to another person.

All residents in quarantine are also tested on days 1, 5 and 12 of their 14-day stay and face a $5,000 fine if they fail to comply with any rule under the Direction of the Chief Health Officer, although generally a warning will be given first.

Michael Gunner has said previously 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, Gunner did sympathise with those in quarantine, particularly people who are used to being close to their families and community.

Steve Milne