Australia’s heavily rural Northern Territory will keep hard border controls in place for at least 18 more months, Chief Minister Michael Gunner told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Tuesday.

The announcement immediately sparked confusion, forcing Gunner to clarify that Northern Territory will remain open to most visitors. However, people from areas designated as hot spots — such as the state of Victoria and the greater Sydney metropolitan region — must first spend two weeks in supervised quarantine. Those visitors are also obligated to foot the bill for their $2,500 quarantine hotel stay, an insurmountable obstacle for most tourists.

Northern Territory is “much more likely to add spots than remove them” from the quarantine list, and the possibility of lifting those restrictions by February 2022 is a “conservative estimate,” Gunner told the ABC. He suggested that residents “cancel your Christmas holiday plans and stay here in the Northern Territory.”

As of Tuesday, Northern Territory had only two active coronavirus cases and had reported only 34 infections to date. By comparison, Victoria had close to 8,000 active cases and reported a record 19 deaths on Monday. Neighboring New South Wales also reported 22 new infections on Monday, its highest tally in months.

A number of Australian states have closed their borders to visitors from parts of the country with higher caseloads. Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged on Monday that those restrictions would probably stay in place through Christmas.

The Washington Post

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