Australia's Northern Territory makes Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for service workers

More than 80 per cent of the Northern Territory's adult population has received at least one dose. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Shop workers, tourist guides and barbers are among dozens of groups who must get Covid-19 shots to work in Australia's Northern Territory, officials announced on Wednesday (Oct 13), unveiling one of the world's most far-reaching vaccine mandates.

Expressing concern at low coronavirus jab rates in some communities, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced that "anyone serving the public at work will have to be vaccinated".

The vast territory stretches from tropical Darwin on the Timor Sea to the dusty Outback settlements of Alice Springs and Uluru - an area three times the size of Spain.

It is home to a large number of Aboriginal and other vulnerable remote communities.

Although more than 80 per cent of the region's adult population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, Mr Gunner said there were "patches of concern" and communities where people are hesitant of or refusing the vaccine.

"I am making sure we do everything possible to get everyone vaccinated," Mr Gunner said. "You can't hold people down and stick a needle in their arm. It is their choice and some are choosing against it."

By Christmas Eve, anyone working with the public must be fully vaccinated or face a fine of A$5,000 (S$4,970) and instant dismissal.

"You work in hospitality - you need to get the jab. Retail or a supermarket - you need to get the jab. If you are behind the counter at a bank or a receptionist, you need to get the jab," said Mr Gunner. "A barber, hairdresser or beauty therapist - you need to get the jab... (if) you are a front-line worker in the economy, that means you must be vaccinated."

In other parts of Australia, Covid-19 vaccines have been made mandatory for healthcare workers and teachers.

Indonesia's capital has announced fines for refusing a vaccine and Fiji has a policy of "no jab, no job" for all government workers.

Around the world, the unvaccinated are now routinely barred from indoor or crowded venues. But the Northern Territory's rules go further than most democracies.

The territory has seen just 214 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began and zero deaths, but officials admit that the run will not last.

"One day, perhaps one day soon, it will be here and it will stay here. We're going to have to live with it," Mr Gunner said. "If you don't get vaccinated, there is a much, much higher chance that you will die."

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