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Toowoomba quarantine hub gets boost, Victoria commits to remote site

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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned there will be more outbreaks, and more lockdowns, as long as returned travellers are being housed in city hotels.

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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews today promised a dedicated quarantine facility in his state and will ask the Federal Government and the private sector to help make it happen.

It comes as Victoria remains in lockdown after the latest COVID-19 breach from hotel quarantine. Melbourne’s Holiday Inn cluster has grown to 19, disrupting travel plans across Australia.

Palaszczuk put remote quarantine on the National Cabinet agenda and again called on the Morrison government to agree to house returned travellers outside of major cities.

After putting greater Brisbane into lockdown over the more infectious UK strain, Palaszczuk warned of continued outbreaks undermining efforts to bring the pandemic under control. Queensland uses 19 hotels for quarantine, and a cleaner recently took the virus into the community, sparking a lockdown.

“This is going to keep happening whilst you have hotel quarantine in your major cities,” Palaszczuk said.

Palaszczuk today sent Deputy Premier Steven Miles and Treasurer Cameron Dick to Toowoomba, where they will hold talks with the Wagner family over a possible purpose-built quarantine facility near the Wellcamp Airport. The Premier described it as a “draft proposal” and it remains to be seen whether it would be large enough to replace, or only supplement, existing arrangements.

“Hotels were not meant to be this line of defence against this infectious disease,” Palaszczuk said today.

“The Commonwealth needs to look seriously at these proposals.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today noted that NSW, and New Zealand, had used hotel quarantine “quite successfully” and suggested any alternative proposals would be for supplementary capacity.

“But we’ll continue to work with States on these issues, as they wish to pursue them,” Morrison said.

Without offering any commitment to change protocols, or provide funding for new facilities, Morrison said his government’s focus had been on rolling out the $6.5 billion vaccine program.

Billionaire Lindsay Fox has proposed a facility near Avalon Airport in Victoria, however Andrews said other facilities, sites and land outside of the Melbourne CBD were being considered. He wanted a national network of emergency remote accommodation that could also be used in the event of bushfires or cyclones.

Andrews said some strains of COVID-19 were “wildly infectious” and the intent was “not to get to zero risk, but to get to a lower risk than we currently have”.

Victoria recorded two new community-acquired cases of COVID-19 overnight, while Queensland again recorded no new cases and has maintained its travel restrictions.

Palaszczuk said Australia should be doing everything possible to control the pandemic. She said hotel quarantine workers would be the first to be vaccinated, and dismissed NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s call for her state to have a greater share.

“We are part of a federation and we are all dealing with quarantine at the moment,” Palaszczuk said.

The Queensland Government has committed $10 million to construction of Toowoomba Wellcamp Trade Distribution Centre (RTDC) at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport and is likely to also help fund any quarantine facility. Miles and Dick visited the RTDC site today, where they also discussed quarantine with John Wagner.

Palaszczuk had floated a mining camp near Gladstone as a potential quarantine facility but recently said the main option was Wellcamp.

Wagner said that under his proposal, such a facility would be funded by the travellers, who already pay for hotel quarantine, with no direct funding from governments. He said it could house up to 1,000 returned travellers and 300 dedicated staff, who would work (and live) two weeks on site, two weeks off site.

 

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