Northern Territory COVID-19 response

18 March 2020 marked the commencement of Australia’s public health emergency response to COVID-19 under Section 48 of the Public and Environmental Health Act, 2011.1 This occurred over a month after the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Health Regulations Agency (IHRA) developed a IHR Emergency Committee for COVID-19 declaring that the outbreak constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020.2

Presenting a strong public health emergency response to protect the Australian community required coherent and strategic actions. With a whole of government response, there were priority areas identified initiating new sections of the health sector and redirecting health workforce to keep the Australian community safe and health systems functioning.

The acceptance of the resulting actions and enforced public health measures received mixed reactions from the wider Australian community, an outcome that resonated across the globe.

Pandemic response action areas modelled on the Northern Territory Department of Health COVID-19 response

Section 6: Figure 1: Northern Territory COVID-19 pandemic response teams.

Within the Northern Territory, Australia, the COVID-19 pandemic response was led by the Department of Health, they worked in conjunction with the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC), Northern Territory Government and were additionally supported by other core areas including (but not limited to) the Federal Police, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Defence Force.

The core pandemic response areas (as depicted in figure 1), were primarily led and staffed by health professionals.

This section of the resource is in two parts. The first will present an overview of the COVID-19 pandemic response in the Northern Territory. This includes the core areas of the response and their role in keeping the community safe. The second part of Section 6 will present Australia’s history of quarantine and quarantine models such as hotel and ship-based quarantine.

The primary reference site which presents the Australian Government’s COVID-19 response can be found on the following website: Parliament of Australia. Australian pandemic response planning: a quick guide.3

Access the full resource for Section 6_Northern Territory Response.

Individual sections for resident care are presented with the information below.

The Northern Territory pandemic response

icon the northern territory pandemic responseThe Australian Government had the advantage of being an island nation in its response to the pandemic making the closing of international borders and imposing strict public health measures at the border a relatively straight forward and effective strategy to reduce the burden of the disease.

This allowed the country to focus on its national strategic public health approach to the preparedness and response to the pandemic and provide time for the health system to prepare for the expected increased acute care presentations and critical care occupancy as seen in other countries .

Aligning with the four areas of Prevention, Preparedness, Response and Recovery, the Australian Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) was established with the following activities to lead their approach:4

  • Monitor and investigate outbreaks as they occur.
  • Identify and characterise the nature of the virus and the clinical severity of the disease.
  • Research respiratory disease-specific management strategies.
  • Respond promptly and effectively to minimise the novel coronavirus outbreak impact.
  • Undertake strategies to minimise the risk of further disease transmission.
  • Contribute to the rapid and confident recovery of individuals, communities and services.4

Quarantine and isolation as a public health measure to protect the community has a significant impact on society and has not been used on the scale required during the COVID-19 pandemic in the living memory of most of the world’s population. In an approach which had to be proportionate to the level of risk, the isolation, quarantine, mandatory COVID testing, infection control policies, lockdown and other public health measures had a significant impact on individuals and communities across Australia.
Access the resource for Section 6 NT COVID-19 pandemic response

Chief Health Officers directions
icon chief health officer directionsThe Chief Health Officer in each jurisdiction is the accountable public officer responsible for actions under the public health legislation and the lead in the public health response to public health threats such as a pandemic.

Once a public health emergency is declared the Chief Health Officer executes legal powers contained within the jurisdictional legislation to impose public health measures to protect the community.5

Each state and territory have its own Chief Health Officer and their roles and responsibilities can vary in each jurisdiction.

The Northern Territory pandemic response areas

icon for the northern territory pandemic response areasThere were a number of teams established to lead the Northern Territory (NT) COVID-19 response and each had specific roles to: reduce the impact of the pandemic on the health sector and healthcare workers, monitor for disease, and protect the wider Northern Territory community.

The Northern Territory response involved the reallocation of some sections of the health workforce to lead these core areas and rapid recruitment to meet workforce demands.

The response areas outlined here are:

  • emergency response workforce hub
  • border restrictions
  • infection prevention and control departments
  • rapid response teams
  • quarantine and isolation services
  • public health departments
  • communication teams.

With the overarching leadership of the NT Department of Health, the Office of the Chief Nursing and Midwifery, the Chief Health Officer, the National Critical Care Trauma and Response Centre (NCCTRC) and the Emergency Operations Centre (with access to Federal and local police) a number of COVID-19 response sectors were established.

With a population of approximately 233,000 people spread over a vast land area, the NT presents unique geographical and environmental challenges to the development of an effective pandemic response, and despite those challenges, the NT response was cited as one of the most successful in Australia.6

Access the resource for Section 6 NT Pandemic response areas


  1. Northern Territory Government. (n.d.). Public and Environmental Health Act, 2011. Northern Territory Legislation. 
  2. World Health Organisation (WHO). (2023).  International Health Regulations (IHR)
  3. Parliament of Australia. (2020). Australian pandemic response planning: a quick guide. 
  4. Commonwealth if Australia. (2020). Australian Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID 19). Department of Health. Publications Number: 12723. 
  5. Chief Health Officer Directions. 
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2022, Jun 28). Snapshot of Northern Territory. 

Content acknowledgement

Content in this resource has been created and, in some cases, directly copied with permission from documents and resources owned and prepared by the Northern Territory Government, Department of Health, Centre for National Resilience, Howard Springs Quarantine Facility and the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre.

Reference this webpage (APA style guide)

To reference the webpage:

Charles Darwin University. (2023). Pandemic Quarantine Facility Guide. Top End Academic Health Partners.

To reference a webpage document:

Charles Darwin University. (2023). Section 6 Northern Territory COVID-19 response: The Northern Territory pandemic response areas. Top End Academic Health Partners.

Pandemic quarantine facility guide abbreviations and full reference list.

Toolbox full reference list

Toolbox List of abbreviations