A travel loophole has been slammed shut with strict new rules announced for the quarantine process in the Northern Territory.

In a major change to the Top End’s border policy, non-approved travel into the state from declared coronavirus hot spots will be banned from midnight.

The Howard Springs quarantine facility is nearing full capacity as more people use it as a loophole to gain entry to other states such as Western Australia.

Announcing the new rules at a press conference on Sunday, NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said they will lower the number of travellers using the centre as a “halfway house” and taking advantage of the state.

“We can no longer happily allow Howard Springs to be used as a halfway house for people who are not intending to spend any further time in the territory,” Mr Gunner said.

“You might remember I first raised this nearly a year ago – when a lot of people were staying in Howard Springs so that they could fly across to Queensland for the footy grand final.

“Back then it was annoying, now it is untenable.”

He said the state was lucky to have managed OK until now, but unfortunately with no end in sight for the Covid-19 outbreak in New South Wales, it’s becoming too much.

”We know this pressure is not going to ease,” he said. “With the number of Australians in lockdown that we have – and the number of Australians subject to hot spot declarations – there are just too many people now taking the Territory for a ride.

“We are not going to carry the can any longer – covering the cost of quarantine for people while other states then get the benefits.

“The jig is up.”

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison, mission lead Cath McDermott and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner during a visit to the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility. Picture Glenn CampbellSource:News Corp Australia

“As of midnight tonight, we are banning all non-approved travel to the Northern Territory for anyone from a declared hotspot area.”

Mr Gunner said approved travel from a hot spot area includes:

• Territorians returning home – with proof of residence;

• People relocating to the Territory – with proof;

• People travelling to the Territory for very specific and approved work purposes – such as the provision of essential services critical to Territory infrastructure and industry; and

• Other very narrow forms of travel, including some compassionate grounds – with approval.

Deputy chief health officer Dianne Stephens (R) and Chief Minister Michael Gunner inspect a single persons room at the Howard Springs Quarantine centre. Picture: Glenn CampbellSource:News Corp Australia

He said the state’s online border arrival form has been updated, requiring people entering the Northern Territory from a hot spot to show they have an approved exemption before their travel to the state will be approved.

Those who are approved from a hot spot area are cleared to arrive in the NT and go into quarantine in Howard Springs or Alice Springs.

“But if you arrive in the Territory from a hot spot, and you are not approved to travel here, then you will be turned around,” Mr Gunner said.

“Whether it’s on our roads or at our airports – you will be told to go home. Our police will be there, telling you to go home.”

Mr Gunner insisted that while it’s not something the state wanted to do, it’s something that they have to do.

The new rules could impact the plans of some travellers. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye GerardSource:News Corp Australia

“For people coming here from hot spots who aren’t Territorians, and who aren’t staying in the Territory, it’s as simple as this – we have nowhere to put you.

“The first objective of our gold-standard quarantine system is to protect the Territory. To protect Territorians. We put them first.

“Our quarantine system isn’t there so that people from Sydney can have a work trip to Broome. It’s not there so that somebody from Brisbane can go and work in Perth.

“Howard Springs is not a transit centre for Western Australia. That’s not why we are running it.

“But that’s what’s happening right now – that’s what hundreds and hundreds of people are doing now. And today, we are ending it.”

A Qantas flight pictured at RAAF Base Darwin, with passengers transported to Howard Springs Quarantine Facility. Picture: ADFSource:Supplied

Mr Gunner also announced Cairns and Yarrabah as hot spots today.

“If you are in the Territory right now, but you have spent any time in the Cairns or Yarrabah areas at any point since the 29th of July – you are directed to immediately isolate, get a test, and stay isolated until you receive your negative test result.”

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