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Yes or no: Premier presses PM on new quarantine camp to get more Aussies home

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More Australians will be able to return home over coming months with a quarantine facility in the NT increasing fortnightly capacity to 2000 but plans for a new Queensland facility remain in limbo.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison remains coy about supporting a new proposed quarantine camp at Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba.

Morrison said he needed a “detailed, costed” proposal despite the camp’s backers, Toowomba’s Wagner family, saying they will build it themselves.

A frustrated Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk insisted the federal government should give a definitive answer on the Wellcamp proposal, saying it will help more vulnerable Australians come home.

The Wagner Group’s planned coronavirus quarantine facility would host up to 1000 travellers and 300 staff.

Palaszczuk said the project had merit, but it would not get off the ground without support at the federal level.

“It’s a very simple question, are you interested or not?” she said.

Palaszczuk said John Wagner had provided the details of his proposal to the federal government, and the state had lengthy discussions at departmental level.

With responsibility of allowing airlines to land at Wellcamp in the hands of the Commonwealth, she said the success of the Wagner project hinged on cooperation between both levels of government.

“If they want charter flights to go into Wellcamp, they can make it happen,” she said.

“It’s got to be a two way partnership, it’s not one person said something and one person said another. You either want to work together collaboratively and get it to happen or you don’t.”

While the future of the Wellcamp proposals remains up in the air, capacity at the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin will increase from its current 850 a fortnight over coming months.

The decision was made on Friday at a national cabinet meeting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders and following a trip by chief nurse Alison McMillan to the site to see what the capacity could be increased to.

Morrison said the limits for other states would stay the same, with the federal government encouraging Victoria to accept international flights again.

Victoria has not been accepting flights from overseas since the virus again leaked from hotel quarantine, prompting a short lockdown across the state.

It is understood 10,000 Victorians are seeking to return home from overseas.

The leaders were also briefed on the best way to respond to new coronavirus strains which have emerged around the world.

The Russian strain of the virus has emerged in Brisbane’s hotel quarantine system.

Meanwhile latest figures show that more than 71,000 people in Australia have been vaccinated agains the virus, including 20,000 aged care residents.

GP clinics will soon be part of the rollout, with Health Minister Greg Hunt saying officials would be responding to thousands of clinics from Friday to finalise arrangements.

It comes as the first AstraZeneca jabs have been administered in Australia after a shipment arrived on Sunday.

Frontline health workers at the Murray Bridge Hospital, east of Adelaide, have been the first to get the new jab, which is initially being rolled out to South Australia and Western Australia.

Europe blocked 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneza coronavirus vaccine from being sent to Australia, but it will not affect the rollout.

Hunt said the doses had not been factored in to distribution numbers for the states and territories.

Australia has asked for a review of the decision, which saw Italy receive approval to use the European Union’s export control system for the first time amid rising tensions about vaccine shortages.

“It is arguably the most intensely competitive international environment since, perhaps, the Second World War,” Hunt said.

He said while 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca were due to arrive from overseas, 50 million are being made locally in Victoria.

The first doses of the locally made jab are due to administered from March 22.

Italy argues Australia is not a high-risk country, with low case and death numbers, in stark contrast to countries overwhelmed by the pandemic.

The EU has been frustrated with a slow vaccine rollout and criticised AstraZeneca for a shortfall in delivering millions of doses.

The Australian Medical Association’s Chris Moy said the government’s decision to lock in local manufacturing would protect against “vaccine nationalism”.

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