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Research highlights the role of the Territory in Australia’s quarantine system

Fiona Shalley
CDU Research Associate with the Northern Institute, Fiona Shalley, has been researching the role NT quarantine centres played in assisting Australians move across State and Territory borders during the peak of COVID-19 restrictions.

New research from Charles Darwin University (CDU) has highlighted the role NT quarantine centres played in assisting Australians move across State and Territory borders during the peak of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

The survey results were pulled from data collected from people in the Territory’s two quarantine centres – Howard Springs and the Todd Centre in Alice Springs - through the period of mid-September 2020 to the end of January this year.

Results showed that the most common reason people were in quarantine was to transit to another state or territory – with 45 per cent of those surveyed listing this as their reason.

This revealed the significant role of the Northern Territory centres in providing the “COVID-safe” passport people needed to cross the hard border restrictions imposed by State and Territory governments in response to the threat of community transmission.

Out of those surveyed, 71 per cent were Victorian and 30 per cent said they were relocating to the Territory for the short or longer term. 

CDU Research Associate with the Northern Institute, Fiona Shalley, said that quarantining allowed some migration of Australians to continue despite the impacts of COVID-19.

“It is speculating to label them as “COVID refugees” because the NT traditionally has high population churn. But we found some stories to suggest that the pandemic may have inspired at least some of the moves,” Ms Shalley said.

“COVID-19 pushed people to re-imagine how they wanted to live, and the general freedoms they were seeking. Slowing down and having access to outdoor activities becomes very attractive to people when harsh restrictions are enforced - so what the Territory has to offer plays well in this space.”

The survey also measured the impact of COVID-19 on people’s physical, mental and financial wellbeing. Compared to other quarantine residents from interstate, those who lived in the Territory reported lower impacts on their physical and mental health which is likely to be connected with the much lighter restrictions within the NT.

In contrast they reported larger impacts on their financial situation which may be related to the costs of quarantine in doing business across state borders and the extra costs of visiting family interstate.

“This indicates that Territory residents were not immune to the negative wellbeing impacts of the virus,” she said.

Ms Shalley said Territorians with family and friends interstate who were feeling isolated from their loved ones may consider leaving the Territory once the vaccination programs are rolled out successfully and people feel safer.

“The NT’s reputation of having no community transmission was part of people’s considerations for migrating to the NT in the shorter and longer term,” she said. 

“That’s why this type of research is so important to our understanding of what attracts people here, what keeps people here and what might drive them away as we move out of the pandemic.”

Ms Shalley said other research conducted as a part of the study showed a change in where Territorians thought they would be living in the future.

“After the onset of the pandemic, Territorians were more likely to think they would still be living here in two years’ time, and this was consistent across all the age groups of people who participated in the research,” she said.

“There was also an increase in the proportion of respondents who were uncertain about where they would be living in the future. So, this provides a real opportunity for the Northern Territory Government to think about how to encourage them to stay.”

Ms Shalley said there is an obvious and larger ongoing role for the Territory in offering an international emergency quarantine accommodation service connected to the unique non-hotel quarantine model.

“The challenge will be to leverage the positive reputation the Territory has set in terms of restricting community transmission and its continuing success in offering safe, healthy and secure quarantining,” she said.

The research was commissioned by the Northern Territory Government as part of a two-year research study.