Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner says lockout restrictions will likely lift in Greater Katherine today, despite a high likelihood more COVID-19 cases will be found in the region.

Lockout rules are also due to lift at midday in the nearby remote communities of Binjari and Rockhole, where wastewater tests have come back negative.

In Katherine, wastewater testing continues to detect traces of COVID-19, prompting concerns that it is still present in the community.

A final decision on whether the town can exit lockout will be made later today.

‘The next phase of our response to the virus’

If any new positive cases in Katherine can be linked, it is highly likely that restrictions will still be lifted.

This represents a significant shift in how the NT government plans to respond to future outbreaks.

“The issue is community transmission,” Acting Chief Health Officer Charles Pain said.

“In other words, cases that we cannot identify as being connected.”

In the past, a single case has been enough to cause a lockdown or lockout.

But authorities acknowledged it would be impossible to eliminate COVID-19 from the NT entirely.

“It is effectively the next phase of our response to the virus.”

Another factor working in Katherine’s favour is the vaccination rate — according to the latest federal data, 78 per cent of people in the town aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

Vaccination rates are a key factor in influencing health authorities’ decisions in an area where an outbreak occurs.

Life after lockout

If restrictions are lifted, the mask mandate will continue for at least another week.

NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said he would “strongly encourage” people to wear a mask, even if they travelled outside of their area to Darwin or Alice Springs.

Katherine resident Luke Enright said it was “nerve-wracking” leaving lockout with COVID-19 still present in the community, but said it was “bound to happen sooner or later”. 

“Let’s just be happy we had the extra time with no cases to get everyone vaccinated, unlike the rest of the world.”

Anna Martin, regional manager at Somerville Community Services, said everyone was looking forward to exiting lockout, and that residents were “really grateful” for the support from welfare groups over the past four weeks.

“It was such a remarkable and collaborative community effort,” she said. 

Ms Martin, Timothy Boit and Maria Oliver prepared and delivered hampers to Katherine residents.(Supplied: Anna Martin)

Jeff Parker, the principal of Clyde Fenton Primary School in Katherine, said he had been “really impressed” with the community’s response to the lockdowns. 

To help students from Katherine, Rockhole and Binjari cope with boredom during the lockdowns and lockouts, the school arranged for student learning packs to be delivered to families.

“About 50 per cent of our kids don’t have a reliable connected device (like an iPad) at home,” Mr Parker said. 

“They couldn’t get to school and our parents and kids said, ‘We’re a bit bored at home, we’ve got nothing to do’.”

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