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Could Cairns become the quarantine hub that gets Aussies home for Christmas?


With tens of thousands of stranded Australians desperate to come home for Christmas, a Federal MP is proposing the establishment of a “quarantine hub” in a city hard-hit by the pandemic.

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Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said states needed to increase their hotel quarantine capacity to allow more Australians back into the country after international arrivals were capped at 4000 people per week in July.

Currently travellers who are able to get back must spend 14 days quarantining in a hotel at their own expense.

Far north Queensland Federal MP Warren Entsch said Cairns, where many hotels were empty because of travel restrictions, was well-positioned to become a quarantine hub.

“We have an international airport here, they could fly directly from whatever country they are stranded in,” Entsch said.

“We have the facilities here, we have hotels that have shut down because of this pandemic.

“We already have hotels here that are operating as quarantine hubs — they’ve got the experience.

“They have never had a problem, they have worked exceptionally well.

“We have got a very capable hospital here that is fully equipped to be able to deal with any emergency.

“This move would re-create jobs.”

Cairns economy takes $1b hit

Queensland Hotels Association chief executive Bernie Hogan said the economic benefits of making Cairns a quarantine hub for returning Australian citizens would provide a boost for the region.

“This may be an opportunity to have those Queenslanders get back to work, who are in those hotels,” he said.

“But also in the food preparation and the transport and the services that go into running one of these hotels.

“It is a decision [individual operators] have to make, and it will be widely considered, I’d say, by the hotel industries.

“It may not be the typical guests or patrons that they’re used to, but they’re large, long-term contracts that would obviously help those hotels that are able to secure them.”

A Cairns Regional Council report found the local economy was expected to take a $1 billion hit, with nine out of 10 businesses in the region impacted by COVID-19.

The report found the unemployment rate was expected to climb to 12 per cent, with 13,000 jobs affected, including 7,700 job losses.

The 4870 postcode – which encompasses the city – has the highest number of people receiving the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program in Queensland.

The ABC has sought comment on the idea from Home Affairs and from the office of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

– ABC / Kristy Sexton-McGrath and Mark Rigby

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