Working while remote NT communities are locked down

Written on the 8 December 2021 by Kelly Gulliver

The NT recently experienced their first outbreak of COVID-19 in a number of remote communities surrounding Katherine— otherwise known as The Big Rivers region. The communities affected were Robinson River, Binjari, Rockhole and Lajamanu. Binjari and Rockhole went into ‘hard lockdown’ for over a week, meaning residents where not permitted to leave their communities or return home if they were in Katherine at the time. This brought about new challenges for the NT Welfare and Homelessness Group made up of NGO’s and NT Government departments who met daily via zoom for over three weeks to collaborate on strategies and implement contingencies to keep people safe, housed and fed during the lockdown.

The smaller communities such as Binjari and Rockhole do not have their own food supply and residents usually travel into Katherine via car, taxi or the bush bus to buy supplies. CCNT Financial Wellbeing and Capability and Housing Support teams worked with foodbank to supply over 1000 food hampers in total during the lockdown and joined forces with the NTG critical goods team and defence to distribute emergency relief hampers to those communities in hard lockdown.

The communities’ houses have a pre-paid electricity system that requires the purchase of power cards to keep electricity running in the house. The CCNT team used the DSS funded ER to purchase $2000 worth of power cards to be distributed to Robinson river, Binjari and Rockhole households. The power cards were well received due to power consumption being up by about 20% with the wet season looming and large families being forced to stay indoors to follow CHO orders.

In Katherine, there is a high population of people sleeping rough and living in overcrowded housing so as more and more exposure sites were announced, close contacts needed support to be transported to the Centre for National Resilience at Howard Springs for quarantine. Casual contacts required NGO support to access safe accommodation that allowed them to isolate and follow the direction of the CHO. The NTG set up brokerage for this support which was administered by CCNT and Salvation Army in Katherine. In total over 220 people were placed into local motel accommodation during the lockdown and lockout periods with this much needed Government funding. The majority of clients vacated on 8 December to return to their usual place of residence. Some communities have their own land council restrictions above and beyond the CHO direction which means they cannot return home until 17 December.

There was a lot of learnings from this experience about how a lockdown looks in a remote setting, as the needs of each community is unique and varies significantly to that of a more urban setting. The people on the ground worked together tremendously to get the job done. 

Author:Kelly Gulliver


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