The Northern Territory government will pay for the return home of a planeload of passengers from Sydney forced into mandatory quarantine by their immediate hotspot declaration.
At 3pm on Sunday, the Northern Territory immediately declared the Greater Sydney, Central Coast and Illawarra/Shoalhaven regions a coronavirus hotspot.
Less than a week out from Christmas, about 140 travellers who were in transit when the change was announced were forced into mandatory quarantine.
NT Health Minister Natasha Gyles on Monday apologised to the travellers, but fiercely backed the decision made by the government.
“I apologise for that inconvenience but we mustn’t give this virus a chance to come into the Northern Territory,” she told reporters,
“We have to continue to act quickly and to protect a particularly vulnerable population.”
Anyone in the air or in transit will not be charged for their mandatory quarantine, and will be given the option of a return trip home paid for by the government.
About 60 people have indicated they will accept that offer, Ms Fyles said, while others who have already booked themselves flights will be reimbursed.
Anyone who arrived in the Territory between December 11 and 3pm on Sunday from the declared hotspots are asked to get tested and isolate until a negative result.
Ms Fyles denied the declaration should have been pushed until midnight, as other states have done, to save travellers in the air the heartache and confusion.
“We have been very clear,” she said.
“Domestic travel in 2020 is not what it was in 2019.
“You must understand if you choose to travel, you could get caught up, through no fault of your own, in a hotspot declaration and you could have to go into mandatory quarantine.”
The outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches ballooned to at least 83 cases on Monday, with all states and territories imposing travel restrictions on Sydney and its surrounds.