Covid has reached a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory for the first time since the pandemic began, prompting a three day lockdown.
A fully vaccinated Aboriginal man from Katherine East tested positive to the virus, authorities said late on Monday.
The 43-year-old also spends time in the Robinson River remote community, which is almost 800 km from Katherine.
A household contact of the man, a 30-year-old Aboriginal woman who is a resident of that community, has also tested positive.
“This is undoubtedly the most serious update I’ve had to give you since the start of the pandemic because it involves a case in a remote community,” Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.
“But we are very prepared for this.”
Mr Gunner said the lack of a clear link between these cases and the Darwin-Katherine cluster had prompted him to announce a lockdown.
From 6pm, a 72-hour lockdown will apply to Greater Katherine, the Robinson River and surrounding homelands. People may only leave home for essential reasons.
A team of eight people, including health experts and police, will be sent to the Robinson River community along with extra vaccines.
The remote community has a population of about 350. So far, 87 per cent have received their first jab, while 77 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Mr Gunner said the rapid response will enable those yet to get their second jab to get vaccinated.
Authorities also plan to test every resident over the next few days.
“This rapid response may be the difference between saving lives,” he said.
Residents are advised to stay put and “if they need anything, we will organise that”.
“The priority tonight is Robinson River. We are ready for this,” Mr Gunner said.
“We outlined our surge response plans for this exact scenario — a case in a remote community — last week.
“It’s not the scenario we wanted, but we knew this day would come and we’ve already swung into action to save lives.
“We’ve always been concerned for our remote communities because of their mobility and vulnerability.
“They are at great risk from the impact of Covid, especially as Delta has emerged.
Mr Gunner pleaded with people to get vaccinated, saying it was not a “white fella disease”.
“If you are not vaccinated, please get the jab. Doesn’t matter if you’re at Robertson River or not, this is not a white fella disease. Covid does not discriminate. This thing is real, don’t wait until it’s too late,” Mr Gunner said.
“We’ve had the rare chance in the territory to get vaccinated before Covid gets here. Other places in the world, basically every single other place in the world, would have begged for this opportunity. Do not waste it, get vaxxed.”
A rapid response team will also be sent to the nearby remote community of Borroloola, which has about 1000 people and a full vaccination rate of 60 per cent.