The Northern Territory has recorded no new COVID-19 cases amid an outbreak in a remote Indigenous community and the Top End’s biggest town.
But Chief Minister Michael Gunner has warned the crisis in Robinson River and Katherine – 320km south of Darwin – is not over after 19 infections were recorded in three days.
“There were no new positive cases in the NT overnight,” Mr Gunner told reporters on Thursday.
“This is good news, but it is not a day to get ahead of ourselves.”
Mr Gunner said people should not assume the outbreak is under control and the virus trapped.
“This is Delta, it’s in large vulnerable households. We’re not out of the woods,” he said.
“The next day or two remain crucial. We are still waiting for a lot of tests to return from Robinson River.”
They are expected late Thursday along with genomic test results, which are likely to confirm the current cluster is linked to the NT’s first community transmission earlier this month.
That was triggered by a woman who unlawfully travelled to the NT from Cairns after visiting Victoria, where she became infected.
Wastewater testing from Darwin came back negative. Test results from Alice Springs, Borroloola and Tennant Creek are also expected late on Thursday or Friday, with hopes they will indicate the virus hasn’t spread further afield.
Health teams have identified 384 close contacts, with 288 contacted and isolating, and 201 returning negative tests.
More close contacts are expected to be identified.
“There’s also a strong chance of close contacts who have tested negative returning a positive test in coming days,” Mr Gunner said.
“We still have lots of testing and tracing work to do, but things are looking more positive.”
All 350 residents at Robinson River have been tested but many results won’t be available until later in the week.
About 50 people from the community have been transferred into quarantine at the National Centre for Resilience.
“Today is good day overall,” Mr Gunner said.
“The best thing about no extra cases is the time it buys our tracing teams. It’s a really important 24 hours that we’ve got now”.
The latest outbreak in the Top End started on Monday when a 30-year-old woman and a 43-year-old man from Katherine were reported infected.
The woman was unvaccinated and travelled from Katherine to Robinson River – 1000km southeast of Darwin – where she tested positive, the first case reported in a remote NT Aboriginal community.
Nine new cases were detected in Katherine on Tuesday, including a 71-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman who was admitted to Royal Darwin Hospital.
Eight new cases were reported on Wednesday, with five infections diagnosed in Robinson River, including a three-week-old girl.
All those infected are Indigenous Territorians and all are from three households, however, Acting Chief Health Officer Charles Pain warned other people elsewhere are likely to be infected.
Overcrowded housing and low vaccination rates trouble many Indigenous communities across the NT, with reports some homes in Robinson River have 20 occupants.
Greater Katherine and Robinson River were plunged into a three-day lockdown when the first cases were announced on Monday.
That was extended to seven days in Katherine on Tuesday, with a territory-wide order to wear face masks in most public areas.
NT Health also extended the lockdown to next Monday in Robinson River after the new cases were announced on Wednesday.
Mr Gunner said a lockout could be considered in Katherine if the vaccination rate improves, along with removing the mask mandate if the data supports it.
Across the NT, 73 per cent of people over 16 in remote communities have had their first vaccine dose and 59 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to recent NT Health statistics, which have been criticised for being inflated by about 10 per cent.
Up to date vaccination statistics for Robinson River and Katherine River have been requested from the NT government.