Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
India COVID flights may stress NT Health

Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory is set to receive three flights of the most urgent cases from India.

May 7, 2021

The Northern Territory is doing its bit to help Australians stranded in India amid a COVID-19 emergency, but will its health system be able to cope?

Darwin’s Howard Springs quarantine facility is set to receive about 500 of the most urgent and vulnerable cases when flights resume on May 15.

Most of those are likely to have mild symptoms but others will require specialist care at Royal Darwin Hospital, which can only handle three to four positive cases.

“As to the issue of capacity (at the hospital), it’s actually rather small in terms of positive patients,” NT Deputy Chief Health Officer Charles Payne told reporters on Friday

“Our (Intensive Care Unit) is the critical element and really can’t take more than two, preferably only one.

“In the broader wards we really only want to have about two.”

Despite this, Dr Payne is confident the NT health system will cope due to new daily pre-flight coronavirus testing and a ban on positive cases travelling.

“There will be a significant number of arrivals that we will manage and we are very keen to play our part … in this humanitarian exercise that the Territory has contributed so greatly to already,” Dr Payne said.

He said if the numbers of positive cases in the NT get too high, the flights from India may be paused again, but that is unlikely.

“There are (also) measures to transfer patients interstate if they require care.”

He said the RDH ICU could also be expanded if required, but that would be at the cost of other non-COVID infected patients.

The planned resumption of flights from India into Darwin will bring the Howard Springs population to about 1200 people by early June, expanding to 2000 by the end of that month.

The first of three flights will land on May 15. The other two are expected to arrive during the following three weeks.

They will bring back the most urgent cases among the 9000-plus stranded citizens and permanent residents in India.

The number of people with coronavirus at Howard Springs has fallen to 21 from more than 50 a week ago, while there is expected to be no cases linked to Indian repatriation flights by next Friday.

Dr Payne said the facility could handle about 100 positive cases, but AUSMAT and NT Health were aiming to keep that number at 50.

India recorded another grim global world record on Thursday, with more than 412,000 new coronavirus cases and almost 4000 deaths.

Dr Payne said a 10 per cent infection rate is likely among the passengers repatriated on flights from India.

The resumption of flights from the subcontinent and the expansion of Howard Springs comes as the NT heads into peak tourist season, which Chief Minister Michael Gunner said will add further load to the territory’s health system.

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