Fed up with living under one of the toughest coronavirus curfews in the world, Victorians are among an army of 62,000 people who have fled to COVID-free Darwin since the borders reopened in July.
And some have even told news.com.au their Victorian bosses don’t even know where they are and assume they are simply “working from home”.
Since July 17, a stunning 62,974 people entered the Territory by road, rail, sea and air — an extraordinary figure that is close to half the population of Darwin.
Only arrivals from hotspots including Melbourne and Sydney need to pay $2500 for the two-week quarantine before they are free to fly anywhere else across Australia.
The Northern Territory’s chief minister Michael Gunner has confirmed there’s currently 700 COVID refugees in quarantine in the Top End at a facility that he insists is “so good” that nobody wants to leave.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all. We are the safest place in Australia, and the rest of Australia knows it,’’ he told news.com.au.
“We still have very strict quarantine rules for people from COVID hotspots like Victoria because we don’t take any risks with the safety of Territorians.
“But if you’re safe, you’re welcome here and we want you here. We have great weather, great people and no coronavirus.”
Some tourists have even revealed to authorities they plan to quarantine before heading to Queensland for the AFL finals.
But many are staying to wait out COVID-19 with real estate agents reporting a huge increase in applications for rental properties and house auctions.
One Darwin resident told news.com.au, “my new housemate is a Victorian public servant who has moved here for a month without telling her boss. They assume she is working from home, which she is. From my house!”
Shortly after the NT election, Mr Gunner confirmed he had briefed the Prime Minister and national cabinet on the influx of southerners and offering to tell them where to get a good Laksa.
“Coronavirus refugees absolutely we’re having them, I’ve briefed the national cabinet that we’re having coronavirus refugees,’’ he said.
Mr Gunner revealed he had even bumped into two Victorian teachers who had fled Victoria on election day.
“Two people came up, two ladies and they said ‘look, we just want to say Chief Minister that if anyone ever says a bad word about Howard Springs we’ll come for them, it’s a great place, it’s better than a hotel we loved, we loved it,’’ he said.
“Eventually she said ‘I teach primary school in Victoria but bugger being there, I’ve moved to the Territory and I’m teaching remote from the NT, no-one in Victoria has to know where I am, I’m just teaching a class remotely’. So sorry Dan, we’re taking your Victorians, this is a much better place to live and she’s relocated to the Territory to teach her primary school kids.”
The official advice on the NT government’s website states: “If you are intending to travel to the NT from an identified coronavirus hotspot you are strongly urged to reconsider your plans; likewise if you are a Territorian intending to travel to a hotspot you are advised not to.”
But this week Mr Gunner was singing a different tune when he wished hip hop artist Illy, who spent his birthday at the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility, a “happy birthday”.
“We’re seeing heaps of Australians from across the country come to the Territory, quarantine for two weeks to keep our community safe, and then enjoy our great Territory lifestyle,’’ Mr Gunner said.
“And I’m glad it means contributing to our music scene too.”
Illy said this week it was a “no brainer” to get out of Victoria.
“This time last week I got a last minute offer to play a show. An actual f****g show, holy shit. The catch – gotta do two weeks of quarantine first. Rough deal right?’’ he said.
“Maybe normally, but what the… is normal in 2020. Amongst everything else, it’s been the longest space between shows since my first time on stage. So, hi Darwin, live from day 1 of quarantine. See you at Rebound.”