In the uniquely vulnerable Norfolk Island community even members of the same household can’t go out together, under threat of arrest.

April 13, 2020 16:31:50
On Norfolk Island, residents could face jail for leaving the house, under some of Australia’s strictest coronavirus lockdown measures.
Key points:

  • Norfolk Island has a large proportion of elderly residents and basic healthcare facilities making the community uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus
  • Testing kits for COVID-19 need to be sent 1,600km to the mainland for testing and any medical emergencies would require air evacuations
  • So far no-one has tested positive but islanders are restricted to their homes with only one person allowed out at a time following multiple reported self-isolation breaches

The latest tightening of the island’s tough restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus came after some people on the remote territory presented with flu-like symptoms and some residents, recently returned from the mainland, ignored quarantine measures.
“I know we’ve had reports of people having parties, while in self-isolation,” Detective Sergeant Glenn Elder told Radio Norfolk on the day the latest lockdown was implemented.
“I’m flabbergasted as to why people are blatantly disregarding the measures we’ve put in place and put the whole community at risk.”
Emergency Management Norfolk Island did not give precise details of the breaches, to protect locals’ privacy in the small, close-knit community.
Sergeant Elder said those that breach the stay-at-home orders could be placed under arrest.
“If they breach more than once, they’re in my custody,” he said.
One person allowed out of house at a time
So far, no-one on Norfolk Island has tested positive to COVID-19.
Tests of those with flu-like symptoms were sent the 1,600 kilometres to the mainland and came back negative.
The remote island’s approximately 1,750 residents have been confined to their homes since last Friday.
They have been only allowed out of the house one person at a time, to purchase essential items.
“We are allowed to go to the supermarket, the baker, the butcher, and the Liquor Bond,” local retired nurse Sally Davie said.
“Which we thought was quite funny because we’re not allowed to exercise, but we’re allowed to go the Liquor Bond once a day.”
Last Wednesday, the newsagent and the hardware store were allowed to open, and on Thursday, walking, running and riding a bicycle from home were also permitted for exercise purposes, though driving to the beach remained banned.
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Community vulnerable due to isolation
On social media, residents directed frustration and anger at those who broke the quarantine.
“It is an absolute disgrace that the whole community pays the price for the action of a small minority of IDIOTS,” local shop owner, Bebs Sanders, wrote on Facebook.
Others used the unique Norfolk Island language Norf’k, a mixture of 18th-century English and Tahitian, to express their feelings.
“As fe dem fwits that se giwe dem the excuse fe dee lock down, I hoep somebody deal to et!” wrote Norfolk Islander James Edwards.
Norfolk Island’s Administrator, Eric Hutchinson, said the tough restrictions were necessary due to the unique vulnerabilities of their community.
“I’m not suggesting it’s the most popular decision that’s ever been made,” he said.
“But people do understand the vulnerabilities this community has.
“It’s a vulnerable community because of its isolation, and it’s a vulnerable community in terms of its limited health capacity, particularly to be able to surge in the event of an outbreak of the coronavirus. And we do have an elderly population.”
On Norfolk Island, medical emergencies require an air ambulance evacuation to traverse the 1,600 kilometres to the mainland, and bad weather can make landing aircraft impossible.
Flights are also required in order to send COVID-19 tests to Brisbane or Sydney.
Retired nurse Sally Davie said every Norfolk Islander feels this isolation.
“We’re a small dot in the middle of nowhere,” she said.
“We can be so vulnerable to weather and we did have a care flight ditch in the ocean here a few years ago.”
Tourism vital to economy
Even before the current lockdown, Norfolk Island had been hit hard by the travel ban implemented in mid-March when a state of emergency was declared and a travel ban imposed.
“For business owners, it’s really quite bad because this island relies on tourists, and of course now there aren’t any,” Sallie Davie said.
“There are a lot of hotels and accommodation that have closed. Some shops just think it’s not worth even opening. Even simple things like the fishermen. They sell a lot of fish to the restaurants and hotels. They’re not even able to do that.”
“It’s been catastrophic,” Eric Hutchinson said.
“Fifty per cent of the island’s economy relies on tourism.”
“When the travel ban was put in place, you didn’t have to be Einstein to work out what the impact was going to be, and it was thus.
“But then on top of this, to implement this lockdown.
“It’s been a very difficult decision, and all of us are looking at ways we can unwind it and it’s being reviewed on a daily basis.”
‘Please yorlye, let’s work agadda’
Norfolk Islander Darlene Buffett is grateful to now be able to go for a walk.
On Tuesday she wrote in Norf’k that lifting of the lockdown is now in the hands of those who broke the quarantine.
“The longer the ‘breachers’ continue to run amuck, the longer this entire community and THEM continue on this track.
“So please yorlye, let’s work agadda so orl ucklun ell shrep alorng en get orn with life!
“I fe wun messen myse family, myse walks en swims en chillen’ doen genna sehn please do guud fe orl yorlye, en ucklun. Please!”
In English, this translates as:
“So please all of you let’s work together so all of us can move on and get on with life.
“I for one am missing my family, my walks and chilling out down on the sand.
“Please do the right thing for everyone here. Please!”
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First posted
April 13, 2020 14:14:53
stories from New South Wales