The Indigenous community and traditional owners living close to Uluru have created a blockade at the entry of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, following ongoing concerns tourists visiting the region will put locals at risk.
Now that the Northern Territory has reopened their borders to most of the country – excluding Victoria, Greater Sydney, the City of Brisbane, Ipswich and Logan City – the general manager of the Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation (MCAC) said it was “totally unacceptable” that a Jetstar flight was allowed to land from a considered coronavirus hotspot on Monday morning.
“We were told this flight would not be going ahead today after the NT declared Brisbane a COVID-19 hotspot on Friday,” MCAC general manager Glenn Irvine told the NT News.
“I watched most of the passengers enter Yulara this morning. This presents an egregious and totally unacceptable risk to the residents of Mutitjulu and the surrounding Lasseter region.”
Speaking to the ABC, Mr Irvine said “no tourists are getting through” the blockade, admitting he was blindsided when the flight arrived to the region after he thought it had been cancelled.
“At 7:20pm last night, I received a text from one of my staff members,” he said.
“Being a small community at Yulara, his next-door neighbour worked at the airport and they advised our manager that actually the flight was coming.”
The Jetstar flight arrived about 10am from the Brisbane and it is understood 40 passengers disembarked from the aircraft.
Last month, MCAC called on Parks Australia to keep nearby Connellan Airport closed because of concerns tourists from interstate hot spots could spread the virus to vulnerable community members and elders.
Given the number of residents from hot spots in Victoria and NSW who have flouted self-isolation rules, and growing concerns of hot spots in Queensland, locals who live around the Uluru region are concerned the same flouting of regulations could happen in the Northern Territory.
In a statement provided to news.com.au, a spokesperson for Parks Australia said the park would now be closed from 1.30pm today for at least 24 hours.
“Parks Australia is committed to being part of a collective response that minimises the risk of COVID-19 to staff, visitors and residents within the Mutitjulu and Yulara communities and at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park,” the statement read.
“We are continuing to work with the Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation, Northern Territory Government and Voyages to reach agreement on additional health and visitor screening measures within the Yulara township, at Ayers Rock Airport and departure points, which complement the measures we have already put in place within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
“As these discussions continue and at the request of the Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park will be closed from 1.30 today until at least 12.00pm tomorrow as all parties continue to work towards a resolution on this matter.”
Speaking to the ABC in July, Mr Woods urged the park’s board of management and the Central Land Council to consider keeping the airport closed, because “people’s lives are more important than money”.
“Indigenous people suffer more chronic disease than other citizens,” he said.
“It only takes one to infect our community … (and we) really don’t have a fair idea of how COVID-19 infects (our) people and the suffering that happens.
“We really don’t want to see it in our backyard.”
News.com.au has contacted Jetstar for comment.