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Queensland's pointed message: Quarantine 'much cheaper than lockdowns'

Politics

The Queensland government says the cost of lockdowns far outweighs the cost of national quarantine facilities and the federal government should get on with building them.

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Victorians are on day one of a seven-day lockdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne, which has swelled to 30 locally acquired cases. Estimates put the cost of the seven-day lockdown at more than $1 billion.

Genomic sequencing shows the outbreak is linked to a man who contracted the virus while in quarantine in South Australia earlier this month.

Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles says if the Morrison government had built quarantine facilities in every state, Victoria would not be in lockdown.

“The incident in Victoria underlines what has to be handled nationally,” he told reporters.

“How can you hold the Victorian government responsible for a leak of the virus from a South Australian hotel quarantine facility, I think, really underlines how there needs to be a national approach.

The deputy premier said there had been 18 leaks from hotel quarantine across Australia causing a number of lockdowns since the start of the year.

He said intermittent lockdowns were more costly than running national quarantine facilities.

The Melbourne outbreak was caused by a breach in hotel quarantine, again exposing the lack of purpose-built facilities.

“Look at the kinds of facilities that we have proposed, and the order of those costs, and compare those to the economic impacts of having to close the whole state, one of the country’s biggest states, down for a week. You can’t compare,” Mr Miles said.

“And so it’s really time for us to get on with building a national quarantine.”

Miles’ barbs came as federal Health Minister Greg Hunt fiercely defended Australia’s sluggish vaccine rollout in a series of fiery interviews.

Hunt described the vaccine program as an “extraordinary achievement” even though only a fraction of the population has received their jabs.

He said Australia was on track to pass four million vaccinations, equivalent to 20 per cent of the adult population.

“We are focusing on protecting those who are most vulnerable, and we keep urging people to come forward to be tested and come forward to be vaccinated,” he said.

“Australians are doing a fantastic job, and it’s very important to put in perspective the extraordinary achievement of Australians and Australia.”

But only 500,000 people – about two per cent of the population – have been fully vaccinated with two doses.

Australia was meant to reach the four million jab milestone in March.

The deputy premier also called for Townsville to host rugby league’s State of Origin opener on June 9 if the MCG is unable, as the match is supposed to be a Queensland home game.

Miles was adamant the ACT should not host Origin I because under NRL rules players from there are eligible for NSW so it is not neutral territory.

“Now if you want to change those rules, well that’s fine, but there are several players in the current NSW team who wouldn’t be there if the ACT wasn’t considered part of NSW, and so they should rule them ineligible,” he said.

Earlier, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath received her first dose of AstraZeneca, partly to allay concerns about vaccine hesitancy in government itself.

She said anyone hesitant about the vaccine should speak with their GP, like she did.

“I found it really helpful to sit down with my GP and talk in detail about what the possible side effects and what the risks are, and make an informed decision for myself,” the minister said.

People arriving in Queensland who have been in Victoria since May 11 are being ordered into hotel quarantine.

She said only state residents and people with exemptions should make the journey from Victoria.

Police are meeting every flight arriving in Queensland and randomly intercepting cars crossing the NSW and Northern Territory borders.

Hunt pushed back against claims some people were waiting to get vaccinated because the federal government had given them the impression there was no rush.

“That’s false, that’s not something I’ve ever said,” he said.

However, the prime minister has commented on many occasions the vaccine rollout was not a race.

And Hunt last week suggested older Australians concerned about the AstraZeneca jab could wait until the end of the year to receive alternative vaccines instead.

He later backtracked on the comments because they were seen as encouraging vaccine hesitancy.

Many aged care residents are still waiting for their first jab, despite being included in the highest priority group.

More than 40 aged care facilities across the country have not received their first doses, but Mr Hunt expected that figure to drop to 25 by close of business on Friday.

“By the end of today we will have 99 per cent of the aged care facilities vaccinated and we are expecting to complete the first dose vaccinations in Victoria,” he said.

“To have every aged care facility vaccinated in Victoria provides an enormous degree of protection.”

 

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