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Infected FIFO worker prompts snap lockdown at mine and three cities

Newmont emergency response
Newmont emergency response

A mine’s entire workforce and thousands more have to spend days in isolation after a single remote employee tested positive for the deadly disease.

A 48-hour lockdown and mandatory masks have been declared for Darwin, Palmerston, Litchfield, and Newmont Corporation’s Granites Gold Mine in the Tanami Desert, 540km northwest of Alice Springs.

192,000 affected

The snap decision, which affects about 192,000 people, came after a fly-in fly-out (FIFO) worker tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The FIFO employee spent one night at a Brisbane quarantine hotel where he was suspected to be infected and spent a day on the Sunshine Coast. The 64-year-old boarded a charter plane to the mine site the following day on 18 June 2021. He travelled to Darwin on June 25 for observation at the Centre for National Resilience until his wife picked him up and drove him home to Palmerston.

Four more infected

The Department of the Northern Territory Chief Minister and Cabinet confirmed four new COVID-19 cases have already been linked to the Granites patient.

“One case has been identified in New South Wales [and] two positive cases are among the cohort currently isolating at the mine in the Tanami. Those two people are now being evacuated to the Centre for National Resilience,” a spokesperson said in a public statement.

The department is still “working around the clock” to contract-trace an estimated 900 other FIFO workers who left the mine for Darwin, Alice Springs, Brisbane and Perth between June 18 and 25. All mine workers who travelled to Alice Springs have been ordered to isolate.

“Of those 900 people, 244 are in the NT. This includes 33 people who arrived in Alice Springs and 211 who arrived in Darwin,” the spokesperson said.

“Twenty are considered to be close contacts and they have all been contacted and are now in secure quarantine. One person is undertaking their quarantine in the Todd Facility in Alice Springs, while another 19 people have been transferred into the Centre for National Resilience.”

‘Assume the worst’

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner is treating the latest infections as the rapidly spreading India strain.

“Everything we see points to this being the highly-infectious Delta variant,” he said in a public statement.

“We are expecting more cases … [and] assume the worst, assume they are positive, and assume that there are exposure sites.”

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The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) commended Newmont on its “seamless and rapid response” to the outbreak.

“Newmont’s excellent record management, professionalism and workforce compliance have supported the quick and decisive activation of the company’s response plan including the temporary suspension of Tanami operations,” MCA CEO Tania Constable said in a public statement.

“All employees at the site are now isolating apart from a small number of critical workers who are responsible for maintaining key systems.”

Constable described the Manigurr-Ma Camp and other mine accommodation sites as “effective quarantine facilities”.

“The Howard Springs facility in the NT … is a former resource industry camp and the model for future Commonwealth quarantine facilities,” she said.

“Adoption of strict world-leading protocols has enabled Australia’s minerals industry to continue to operate, keeping 240,000 people in work and generating $300 billion in export revenue and one-third of company tax revenues to fund essential services and infrastructure.”

NT’s lockdown is expected to be lifted at 1pm on June 29.

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