REAL AUSTRALIA

The NT's worst COVID fears have been realised

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The town of Katherine is in the grips of lockdown, but some have nowhere to go.

The town of Katherine is in the grips of lockdown, but some have nowhere to go.

The Northern Territory has managed to largely avoid the pandemic for almost two years.

Apart from a sprinkling of cases here and a number of lockdowns that can be counted on one hand, COVID has never really managed to sink its claws in.

Until now.

On November 15, Chief Minister Michael Gunner called an emergency press conference to announce that a man had tested positive to the virus in the town of Katherine and a woman had tested positive in the remote community of Robinson River.

There were a lot of things about these cases which made them different to others we'd seen before.

Firstly, this was the first ever case of community transmission the Territory had seen.

Secondly, it was the first time an Aboriginal Territorian had contracted the virus.

Thirdly, it was the first time the virus had made it out of the main cities of Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs, and into a remote Aboriginal community.

There is a reason the NT has taken such a hardline approach to keeping the virus out. Unlike NSW or Victoria, we don't have the option of having 1000 cases or more a day.

The NT's comparatively tiny pool of health resources simply can't handle it.

Also, 30 per cent of our population is Aboriginal, who for a myriad of reasons, are significantly more likely to become seriously ill or die if they get the virus.

For almost two years, the Territory's health authorities have been terrified of the exact situation we are in right now, and for good reason.

Not only has the virus been spreading among Aboriginal people, but it's now spread to two remote communities, with the expectation that there will be positive cases in a third.

Not only are many communities, well, remote, meaning their residents have difficulty accessing health and other essential services.

There is also the factor of a housing crisis that stretches across the Territory.

In many communities - including those currently in a lockdown so strict they can't even leave the house for groceries - up to 25 people can live in one, poorly insulated and often dilapidated house, making it almost impossible to isolate from others if you're sick.

In Katherine, when everyone has been told to stay in their homes, there is a housing shortage so severe that many are left on the street.

One man I spoke to has been sleeping rough on the streets of Katherine for almost a decade after being put on the social housing waitlist in 2012.

Combine that with a stretch of 40 degree days in the leap up to what is set to be a major wet season, it's a recipe for absolute disaster.

Those on the front lines have been incredible at handling what is an unprecedented situation, working endless hours in the sweltering heat to try and fight against this deadly virus.

However, for the NT, the battle's only just begun.

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