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Fears Darwin lockdown will be extended after infected miner’s alleged isolation breach

Another COVID-19 exposure site has been found in the Northern Territory after an infected miner allegedly breached his isolation order and lied to authorities.

The new site is a supermarket in the Darwin suburb of Stuart Park, a furious Chief Minister Michael Gunner told reporters late on Thursday.

He said the store, visited by the man is his 50s on Sunday 27 June, is across the road from a high-traffic service centre and is attended by vulnerable Indigenous populations.

“However, this was a Sunday when the service centre was closed. CCTV footage shows the individual was wearing a mask during his time in the store, very few people came into the store during this period and we do not believe anybody from our Indigenous communities entered the store during that time,” he said. 

“However, there is a risk. That’s why it is now an exposure site.”

Mr Gunner said the breach might affect plans for Darwin and surrounding areas to come out of lockdown on Friday. 

The man allegedly misreported his movement to authorities, initially saying he was only in the community for 36 hours before isolating.

Anyone who attended the Corner Store between 12:18pm and 12:35pm on Sunday must now isolate and contact authorities for a COVID-19 test.

“I am extremely unhappy with this turn of events. Don’t lie to authorities. The best way through coronavirus is to be absolutely honest,” Mr Gunner said.

“This is not where I want to be tonight. He broke the law and he lied about it.”

It comes hours after the NT recorded one new virus case following an outbreak that started in Newmont’s Granites Mine, about 540km northwest of Alice Springs, six days ago.

That miner tested positive for the Delta variant in Darwin’s Centre for National Resilience at Howard Springs.

He was a close contact of the first case, who tested positive for the virus on Saturday after arriving at the mine on 18  June.

Meanwhile, Alice Springs has finished its first full day of lockdown.

The town was locked down on Wednesday after another miner spent most of last Friday at the town’s airport.

He then flew to Adelaide where he tested positive for the virus a day ago, along with four members of his family.

More than 60 close contacts linked to that miner have been identified in the NT. 

The health direction applied to everyone inside the Alice Springs town council boundary, including hundreds of Indigenous Australians living in camps.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Gunner voiced concern about vaccination rates in the NT’s remote and vulnerable communities.

“The vulnerability of our population worries me a lot,” he told the ABC. 

The crisis started on Saturday when a young Victorian man, who travelled to the mine via a Brisbane quarantine hotel, tested positive for the virus.

More than 700 workers were immediately ordered to isolate at the mine as authorities scrambled to track about 800 more who had flown to their homes around Australia after the infected miner arrived.

It’s understood 17 cases are linked to the outbreak.

The man at the centre of Thursday’s warning left the mine on Friday.

He travelled to multiple venues, including Darwin’s Buff Club, before being ordered to isolate at home while he waited to be moved to Howard Springs.

Authorities initially reported that he’d been moved to the quarantine facility on Saturday night, with Mr Gunner labelling it an “internal reporting error”.

He said the man would be further “interrogated” to ensure he has fully revealed his movements in the community while infectious.

“This individual is in a spot of bother as it relates to us,” NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said.

“It is bitterly disappointing. We will fully investigate this matter to ensure this individual is held to account.

“He’s got a lot to think about. It has set us a number of days behind.”

A close contact of the man from the Buff Club was on Wednesday moved from Jabiru to Howard Springs after she refused to isolate at her home in Kakadu National Park.

Darwin and surrounding areas have been in lockdown since Sunday, with hopes restrictions would end on Friday after wastewater testing found no evidence of COVID-19 in the community. 

But that now looks unlikely, with Mr Gunner saying it will come down to how quickly any new contacts can be isolated and tested.

“Depending on what we can learn tonight, this may have an impact on our decision on the lockdown tomorrow morning. I hope that it won’t, but I have to be straight with you: it might,” he said. 

“We wil keep working tonight and we’ll update you again in the morning.”  

With reporting by SBS News.

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