Covid fears force cancellation of Garma festival

One of the nation’s most important Indigenous festivals has been forced to cancel for a second year over safety concerns around the Covid outbreak in Victoria.

Organisers of the Garma Festival in the Northern Territory had to cancel after the Northern Territory’s Chief Health Officer said the risk of infection by an interstate visitor was too great despite the event’s location in north-east Arnhem Land.

“If there were to be an individual that came to the Territory and escaped the controls that were there, escaped our controls and was a source of infection in that festival, it would have posed a completely unacceptable risk,” Acting Chief Health Officer Charles Pain said.

Festival organisers Yothu Yindi Foundation had tried to come up with an alternative plan that include testing all interstate visitors and setting up a 24-hour COVID clinic on site.

“Keeping the region COVID-free has always been the Yothu Yindi Foundation’s number one priority,” they said.

The Foundation added they were “shattered” by the decision but accepted it with “enormous regret and sadness”.

“Unfortunately, the NT’s Chief Health Officer has determined that Gulkula’s remote location poses too many logistical and safety challenges in the unlikely event of a COVID incident, such as the difficulty of evacuating people from the site, and the unsuitability of quarantine facilities in north-east Arnhem Land,” they said.