The Northern Territory government will reopen its borders to interstate travellers on July 17 to restart a demoralised economy that has been in hibernation since it was shut down three months ago.
Thursday marked 28 days since the last of the 30 people to have COVID-19 in the Territory recovered, prompting Chief Minister Michael Gunner to announce a reopening of borders four weeks in advance.
There were worst-case predictions at one stage of 2000 Territorians possibly being killed by the disease, but there have been no deaths yet out of the 102 in Australia.
Territory residents and people who come to the NT from other states will no longer have to go into quarantine for 14 days, although international arrivals still will.
Police and defence force members will continue to note all arrivals for another two weeks after the borders open to track potential virus carriers.
Country Liberal Party Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro and Territory Alliance Leader Terry Mills both criticised the decision to wait another four weeks, saying it would mean “weeks of lost opportunities” for Territory retail, hospitality and tourist businesses during the high dry season.
“”After meeting with the chief health officer, I’m convinced we can safely reopen our borders to all Australian jurisdictions, if I was chief minister, I would reopen them on 22 June,” Ms Finocchiaro said.
The Northern Territory’s unemployment rate has jumped to 7.4 per cent in May from 5.6 per cent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures on Thursday showed, but that is based on people looking for work and the actual figure would be higher.
Mr Gunner said the consequences would rest with him and not his political opponents if he reopened the borders too soon, and he was following the medical advice of the NT Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie.
“I would rather you hate me right now and you are alive to hate me than have regret going too soon and stuffing it up,” he said.
“I saw people in unemployment queues, they are not things leaders want to do. You do not get elected to see more people lining up at Centrelink.
“I think if you’ve got any doubt about this, look at other countries where coronvavirus got out of control. America, the UK, Italy, Spain and the countries go on, the economies there have been smashed.
“What price a life? Saving lives is what leaves the economy best prepared to then come back and that’s why I think we will be the comeback capital for Australia.”
Former Dow Chemical president Andrew Liveris is co-chair of a Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission packed with industry heavyweights charged with kickstarting a natural gas-driven manufacturing boom that will achieve five per cent economic growth in the NT.
Australian Associated Press