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Northern Territory police say they don’t believe three teenagers who allegedly absconded from Darwin’s Howard Springs COVID-19 quarantine facility this morning came into contact with members of the community.
Police say three teenagers aged 15, 16 and 17 scaled a fence to escape the facility
The trio were arrested on the outskirts of Palmerston this morning
Authorities say the risk posed to the community was “very low”
At a COVID update press conference, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner confirmed the teenagers, aged 15, 16 and 17, tested negative for the virus yesterday.
He said all three were from the Binjari community near Katherine and had been sent into quarantine as close contacts of positive cases.
NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said officers found the trio on the edge of Palmerston and arrested them after a chase on foot.
He said the young people are still being interviewed but “early indications” were they had not had any contact with members of the public.
“The health risk to the community was very low, so that does give cause for comfort,” Mr Gunner said.
This morning police said a search was underway after three people reportedly scaled a fence at the quarantine centre and escaped at around 4:30am.
The facility is housing people affected by the Katherine region COVID-19 outbreak as well as returned travellers from repatriation flights, including a man who tested positive for the Omicron variant on Monday.
At the press conference, Mr Gunner said authorities were dealing with “a pretty complicated cohort at the Centre for National Resilience right now, with complex needs.”
Since the confirmation of cases in the community of Robinson River and Katherine on November 15, positive cases and hundreds of household and other close contacts have been flown to the facility in Darwin to undertake quarantine.
Mr Gunner said the isolation in quarantine was “pretty hard for some people … used to being close to family and community.”
He said the escape could mean an extension of the time the teenagers were required to stay in quarantine.
“Absconding from Howard Springs isn’t just dangerous — it is incredibly stupid,” he said.
“Because we will catch you and there will be consequences.”
The escape comes days after a 27-year-old man escaped the facility by scaling a fence and heading for the Mitchell Street party strip in a waiting vehicle.
The man tested negative for the virus but the incident is still under investigation, with police searching for the driver of the vehicle involved.
Commissioner Chalker said CCTV coverage would be increased at the facility, but it was not possible for officers to be stationed at all possible exit points.
He said fines of $5,024 applied to breaches of a Chief Health Officer direction.
He also said health teams would discuss whether some people in the facility could have more contact to combat the isolation that “may [have been] a trigger” for the young people’s escape.
“I also want to point to the overwhelming compliance that we’ve had, given several hundred people have been placed into the Centre of National Resilience linked to the clusters from Robinson River, Katherine, Binjari and Rockhole,” he said.
“That compliance continues to be a testament to the large majority.”