Families living in remote parts of the Northern Territory say they’re concerned and confused about the quarantine requirements for their kids returning home from interstate boarding schools. 

Key points:

  • National Cabinet endorsed a code for boarding school students in September
  • The ICPA says the NT government is not honouring the code or providing clear, consistent information 
  • Remote families say they are concerned and confused by the quarantine rules

In September, the NT government endorsed the National Code for Boarding School Students, which prioritised home quarantine for boarders — as long as there were appropriate facilities to isolate.

But according to the Isolated Children’s Parents Association (ICPA), the government appears to have changed its mind. 

“Many families had already made plans for their children to return home, have booked those plans several weeks in advance — and those plans have been in some cases turned on their head,” ICPA NT president Sarah Cook said.

“We have examples where parents are trying to make arrangements and have been given various different pieces of advice depending on which department they’re speaking to, which is creating another layer of confusion on top of what is already quite a stressful situation.”

Getting the kids home for Christmas

A wide angle shot of a small tin cabin nestled among trees in a rocky outback landscape.

Nicole Lorimer wants to quarantine her kids at Ooraminna Station, 40 kilometres south of Alice Springs.(Supplied)

Nicole Lorimer from Ooraminna Station, south of Alice Springs, has two children at boarding school in Sydney.

She said they spent most of 2021 being homeschooled because of COVID-19 restrictions in New South Wales, but all of that changed after the National Code for Boarding School Students was finalised.

“In September when it [the National Code] was passed, there was great joy, so as soon as a boarding house opened, we put them on a plane,” she told ABC Rural.

Ms Lorimer said she had applied for her kids to quarantine at home, in accordance with the national code, but had to cancel their flights when she did not receive a response. 

“We have the ability to quarantine them securely on our property … it would be really helpful if someone in a department actually accepted that it’s quite a sensible way to do this,” she said.

A man with his arm around the shoulder of his 14-year-old son

Morgan Lorimer and his 14-year-old son, Colton who attends boarding school in Sydney.(Supplied: Nicole Lorimer)

Ms Lorimer said it would be “financially crippling” to the family business if she had to hotel quarantine with her kids in Alice Springs. 

“We have over 60 head of livestock on the property at home, cattle, horses, goats, fowl that I am watering and feeding daily … and we would have to shut our tourism business down prior to Christmas.” 

Ms Lorimer said she knew of families concerned that sudden quarantine changes could see kids missing out on Christmas at home. 

“I have friends in the bush who are trying to work out if they get kids to travel after December 20, which is when the borders are meant to open up … but if that doesn’t happen, and they do have to quarantine, they’re going to run into Christmas and be in quarantine over Christmas in town,” she said.

Same rules for boarding school students

Health Minister Natasha Fyles said she acknowledged some interstate boarders had been “caught up in hotspots in the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation.”

But she said, “under the CHO directions, boarding students are required to adhere to the same home quarantine arrangements as everyone else”.

“This is due to NT’s particularly vulnerable population, especially in remote areas, to keep Territorians safe,” she said.

“As the Territory increases its vaccination rates, additional locations will become eligible for home quarantine.”

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Outback families race to get kids home for Christmas
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