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ABC News
ABC News
By Chelsea Heaney and Lauren Roberts

Coronavirus evacuees expected to arrive at NT workers' camp Saturday

A second plane load of Australian coronavirus evacuees from Wuhan will be quarantined at an unused workers' camp near Darwin.

Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy issued a guarantee for the safety of the Howard Springs community.

"There is no way that I, or any of my medical colleagues in Territory health or nationally, will even pose the slightest risk to anyone in the community," he said.

"Even someone who is unwell cannot pass on this infection unless you are in close contact, less than a metre with droplets spread."

Professor Murphy said anyone who became unwell at the site would be "immediately quarantined" and taken to Royal Darwin Hospital.

"I personally will guarantee the safety of the community around Howard Springs," he said.

The village was once home to 3,500 workers employed in the construction of Inpex's $55 billion gas plant on Darwin Harbour.

According to a statement from the NT Government, the Territory will host about 280 Australians who are being evacuated from China.

"The chief health officer has complete confidence that the Darwin community will not be impacted by this cohort being quarantined at the Manigurr-ma accommodation village at Howard Springs," the statement reads.

"The facility is perfectly fit for quarantine purposes and will provide these Australians with the care they require for the 14-day period."

The site will be a declared isolation zone under the Notifiable Diseases Act — meaning any movement in or out will be strictly controlled and enforceable by law.

"The facility encompasses accommodations, designated internal isolation zones if required, commercial kitchen and recreation facilities are all available," the NT Government statement said.

"The plane will arrive on Saturday morning into the RAAF base Darwin side of the airport and will be met by Australian Border force, AUSMAT and ADF.

"The AUSMAT team on the flight from Wuhan will have screened the passengers and give forward notice of anyone who is unwell.

"The Christmas Island experience was that the passengers were all well and no admission to hospital has been required."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Christmas Island site currently being used to house coronavirus evacuees was unable to take any more people "because of the inability to properly segregate and manage the population in that facility".

He said he had spoken with NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner and reached a decision to use a former Inpex workers village instead.

"We are working through the consultation phase with the local community and others about the implementation of those arrangements," Mr Morrison said.

"My advice is that it is progressing extremely well and we'll be able to continue to go down our path for the planning of the second assisted departure flight."

Mr Gunner said Australia's first mainland coronavirus quarantine centre was likely to be operational by this weekend.

"Discussions with officials will continue throughout the day and government officials are assessing the site right now," he said.

Trucks, equipment and defence force personnel descended upon the site on the outskirts of the Top End capital city on Friday morning, as preparations for the oncoming evacuees ramped up.

Mr Gunner said he had been given assurances by the Federal Government there would be no health risk to the general public.

"I put the safety of Territorians first. Always have and always will," he said.

"The NT's chief health officer has complete confidence that the Darwin community will not be impacted by this cohort being quarantined here.

"The virus is spread only through close contact, that means any neighbouring facilities will not be affected."

Mr Gunner said the selected site would be declared an isolation zone and that it was unclear how long the Federal Government would be using it as a quarantine site.

"This means that any movement in or out is strictly controlled and enforceable by law," he said.

The facility was built in 2012 and transferred by Inpex to the NT Government in May last year.

Since then, the Government has been consulting on what to do with the vacant site, which has been costing the cash-strapped NT government $350,000 a month to maintain.

"There will be no confirmed cases of the virus among evacuees, they are not sick. They will be isolated at the site purely as a precaution only," Mr Gunner said.

The village has a large medical centre, industrial kitchen, mess hall, gym and a swimming pool.

Evacuees are expected to land at Darwin International Airport and be processed through the RAAF side of the facility before being sent to the village.

Acting NT chief health officer Di Stephens said Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) would be handling the transport of quarantined individuals and staffing of the facility.

She said the Top End's medical services were prepared for any cases that could arise.

"We have a very well-tested and stood-up system which is prepared to take any locals or any people that might require admission from this cohort," she said.

"This particular facility is perfectly suited for a quarantine type of event. The evacuees will be housed in very comfortable and humane conditions."

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles confirmed that all suspected coronavirus cases in the Northern Territory had tested negative to date.

The Northern Territory Government also said it was "very important to note" that the evacuees who were Australian citizens and permanent residents who were neither sick nor symptomatic.

"The quarantine is a precautionary measure," the statement said.

The evacuees will be screened before leaving China and will travel with a medical AUSMAT team who will be accommodated in the complex as well to provide immediate medical response should it be required.

They will continue to be screened throughout the 14-day period of their quarantine and be confined within the accommodation complex.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said, to date, there had been 31,428 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 638 confirmed deaths.

Mr Hunt said in Australia, there had been 15 cases confirmed but no additional cases on Friday.

He said the Federal Government had not considered moving people from Christmas Island to Howard Springs.

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