The Northern Territory has recorded its first local case of COVID-19, sending the town of Katherine into a full-scale snap lockdown and confining unvaccinated Darwin residents to their homes.
At midnight local time (1.30am AEDT), greater Katherine, including Tindal, was sent into a 72-hour lockdown in an attempt to identify and stop any spread of the coronavirus in the area.
In greater Darwin, the Northern Territory government declared a “lockout” for the same period, stopping all movement in and out of the capital and imposing lockdown conditions only on the city’s unvaccinated residents.
Everyone living in either region must wear a mask when leaving the house, regardless of vaccination status.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner confirmed the measures in a late-night press conference held just hours before they came into force.
Mr Gunner said an unvaccinated contract worker at the Royal Australian Air Force in Tindal started showing symptoms on Tuesday and tested positive to COVID-19 on Thursday night.
“The man has not travelled outside of the Territory recently,” Mr Gunner said.
“That means he caught the virus inside the Territory.
“We don’t know where and we don’t know when but this is community transmission.”
Mr Gunner described the case as a “strong positive”, saying the man, who lives in Katherine and Humpty Doo, had spent “limited” time in the community in Darwin, its rural areas, and Katherine.
He said the measures were necessary because authorities didn’t know the source of the infection, the man had spent a full day working in Tindal while infectious and the Katherine region was yet to hit the 80 per cent vaccination barrier putting an end to lockdowns.
The Chief Minister said vaccination rates were the reason for the different measures imposed in Katherine — where 65 per cent of over 16s are fully vaccinated and 75 per cent have had at least one dose — and Darwin.
“This is the best reason you will ever have for getting jabbed,” Mr Gunner said, of the community transmission.
“Please don’t hold your community back any longer by holding out.
“You’re going to help make sure this is hopefully the last lockdown by getting vaccinated.”
He said the idea of locking down only unvaccinated people if there was local transmission in Darwin had been flagged two months ago.
“It is not a surprise to anyone,” he said.
“Everybody knew that this is the footing that we were moving to, only locking down the unvaccinated.”
The greater Darwin lockout zone includes the City of Darwin, City of Palmerston, Litchfield Council, Wagait Shire, Belyuen Shire, Dundee, Bynoe, Charlotte and the Cox Peninsula.
The government has not ruled out a full lockdown if needed to control a rapidly spreading outbreak.
In Katherine, all businesses, retail outlets, hospitality venues, gyms, pools and community centres are closed, while cafes and restaurants can offer take-away and delivery.
Schools and childcare centres will open only for the children of essential workers.
In greater Darwin, customers will need to show their vaccination certificate in order to access cafes, restaurants and other non-essential businesses.
Anyone under lockdown conditions may leave home for medical treatment — including getting a COVID-19 test or jab — essential goods and services, essential work, one hour of exercise with one other person or their household — within 5km of home — or to care for a family member or other person who can’t support themselves.