Tourism Central Australia 'thrown under the bus' by NT reopening road map, says tourism body

Tourism and hospitality businesses have raised concerns about the Northern Territory’s road map out of lockdowns, revealed by the Territory government yesterday.

The road map paves the way for life in the Territory once 80 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. 

Tourism Central Australia said it was grateful for the government’s efforts to keep the Territory safe during the pandemic, but said the policy would further impact the already struggling industry.

“From day one of the pandemic we have been the collateral damage, and this will continue under [this policy],” CEO Danial Rochford said.

‘Thrown under the bus’

Under the plan, the Territory will transition from the current hotspots strategy to three new categories for travellers. 

There will be ‘green’ non-COVID-hotspot areas, ‘orange’ areas that have a low-to-medium COVID risk, and ‘red’ areas that are designated COVID hotspots. 

Vaccinated arrivals from orange areas will need to isolate until they receive a negative COVID test, while those from red areas will need to quarantine for 14 days at a suitable location instead of being forced to quarantine at Howard Springs or the Todd Facility in Alice Springs.

Unvaccinated travellers from orange or red areas, who do not have a pre-approved reason, will be banned from entering the Territory.

Mr Rochford said those rules would discourage people from visiting the Territory. 

“In terms of tourism, yet again, our industry’s been thrown under the bus as a result of this call,” he said.

“The reality we’re going to find ourselves in is almost all of Australia will light up red, which will mean that we will be locking out visitors, or if anyone wants to come to the Northern Territory, you’re quite welcome — but you’ve got to stay in a room for 14 days.”

The industry had called for more support from governments several times this year in the wake of the pandemic, but Mr Rochford said his members were becoming desperate.

“They’re running out of money, they’re starting to shut up shop,” he said. 

“I’ve been calling for government support for months now.  I’m not calling for it this time — I’m begging the government for support for our industry.”

Vaccine mandate

The road map will also mandate vaccinations for workers in high-risk and customer-facing settings, like healthcare, hospitality, and retail.

Kim Hopper owns a cafe in Alice Springs and said the new responsibility was still sinking in. 

“Initially, I feel uncomfortable going to staff and asking them about their vaccine record. But if this is what the plan is, we will do it,” she said. 

Ms Hopper was hoping for more information about the right of businesses to refuse entry to unvaccinated customers.

“It’s one thing to get a handle on your workforce but anyone could walk through our door here and not want to comply with that request,” she said.

“And then we have to deal with the ramifications of that.” 

She said the vaccine mandate could also put even more pressure on an already small workforce if employees chose not to be vaccinated.

“It will lessen the pool, depending on how Australia-wide people respond to this situation going forward.”

Police could face extra workload

Northern Territory Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said police officers would be included as workers who must be vaccinated. 

“Certainly those who work front line, and the argument is if you’re wearing a uniform, there’s every chance you may end up working front line,” he said. 

He had already foreshadowed that police officers who did not get vaccinated would be forced to wear a facemask at all times — a proposal he had already consulted the police union on. 

Mr Chalker also acknowledged that policing lock-outs would likely lead to more work for police.

The lock-outs will mean that, in the event of a positive case in the community, vaccinated people will not be required to lock down, while unvaccinated people will have to follow the current stay-at-home orders for lockdowns. 

“If people become frustrated, start creating anti-social behaviour spaces, we would invariably be called,” he said. 

But he said police would continue to prioritise their resources, despite the potential for extra work. 

“So clearly, a family and domestic-violence-related incident will remain a higher primacy than someone who’s carrying on like a pork chop at a gym, who’s unvaccinated but wants to go into the gym.”

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