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Hotel quarantine here to stay, Queensland proposal only for ‘overflow’ says Morrison

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has likened calls for remote quarantine facilities to the expensive immigration detention network established by a previous Coalition government.

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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has proposed travellers returning from overseas be quarantined in remote facilities where the staff needed to support them could also be isolated from the general public.

She raised the idea after the more contagious UK strain of COVID-19 managed to breach quarantine at Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor and travel to the suburbs with an infected hotel cleaner. That prompted a three-day lockdown in Greater Brisbane.

While Morrison was initially supportive of the Palaszczuk proposal, he later relayed the concerns of regional communities who feared they would be more at risk. A National Cabinet meeting on Friday decided the proposal needed more work.

Today, on the 12-month anniversary of Australia’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, Morrison praised the systems and processes that had kept infections low and avoided a third wave. He said National Cabinet had considered remote facilities months ago, only to conclude that using hotels was best.

“This has been a very effective way and successful way of doing it,” Morrison said, noting that almost 80,000 Australians had come home since mid-September.

“Of course, there have been some instances where quarantine hasn’t been perfect but to expect perfection on that, I think, in a global pandemic, is unrealistic; what happens is then the supplementary supports that go around through tracing and other measures.”

Queensland has recorded two new cases of COVID-19, both in returned travellers already in quarantine. There are 15 active cases in the state.

NSW has gone an eighth day with no cases in the community, raising expectations that Queensland might lift remaining Sydney travel restrictions this week.

However, travellers from New Zealand, who are allowed into NSW without having to quarantine, have been urged to check contact tracing alerts in Auckland after a case there. A traveller who recently returned from overseas and completed 14 days of isolation later developed symptoms and tested positive in a blow to the country’s good record in the pandemic.

The number of returning travellers allowed into Australia is still expected to increase. Governments had imposed a slowdown to consider the impact of more contagious strains of COVID-19.

Morrison praised Queensland for successfully responding to and containing the Hotel Grand Chancellor outbreak. He said the Palaszczuk proposal for alternative facilities only related to “supplementary capacity”.

“That only relates to an overflow capacity around charter flights, it’s not an alternative (to hotel quarantine),” Morrison said.

Palaszczuk had pointed to the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, used to quarantine some travellers earlier in the pandemic, as an example of what would be required.

The Queensland government is known to be considering an existing mining camp near Gladstone, or a purpose-built facility at Toowoomba Wellcamp airport, provided health support is available on-site and nearby for any confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Construction firm Wagners has floated the idea of building a 1,000-room quarantine facility and another 300 rooms for staff at its airport outside of Toowoomba.

But Morrison downplayed the prospect of a new quarantine system, likening it to the immigration detention network established by a former Coalition government.

“We all know how much that cost and we all know how that worked,” Morrison said.

Morrison made the comments while detailing the latest plans for COVID-19 vaccines to help protect Australians.

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