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NT prepares for risk of remote virus cases

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The Northern Territory's health authority says it is ready to deal with a coronavirus outbreak among tens of thousands of Aboriginal people living in remote areas with limited medical resources.

There are no known cases of the potentially deadly COVID-19 in the Territory's disadvantaged remote indigenous communities, which are home to nearly 60,000 people.

Aboriginal people were massively over-represented during the 2009 swine flu pandemic because of that disadvantage, comprising 11 per cent of cases.

Government research higher "rates of complication (hospitalisation) and a six-fold death rate compared with non-indigenous Australians" from the disease.

Labor-turned-independent MLA Scott McConnell said last week indigenous constituents based in the bush had contacted him with worries about COVID-19 affecting their families and the only clinics in their communities.

NT deputy chief health officer Dianne Stephens said a "remote public health plan" was released on Monday night and sent to all major health networks including the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory.

"We are having an exercise on Thursday with a lot of stakeholders from the remote and rural health centres in order to work through the very real and challenging logistics there are in remote health communities from isolating and home quarantining people to testing them," she told reporters.

The leadership of the NT's indigenous communities would make the ultimate decision about whether to isolate or evacuate people at risk after being given all of the information, Prof Stephens said.

Until there was an outbreak of coronavirus in the NT, the mechanisms already in place for dealing with infections in remote communities and retrieving people were sufficient, she said.

The NT confirmed its first case of coronavirus last week after a 52-year-old Sydney man tested positive after flying into Darwin.

NT Health tracked down two people sitting near him on the plane, who were on their way to a fishing trip in remote Arnhem Land. They have been placed in two weeks of isolation at Maningrida.

Remote Aboriginal communities in the APY lands near the NT border have started asking visitors to sign statutory declarations to say they have not been exposed to the virus or returned from high-risk countries.

A pandemic clinic was opened for testing at Royal Darwin Hospital on Tuesday with more to come in Alice Springs and other towns.

© AAP 2020

Tags: Coronavirus