Queensland is examining using remote mining camps to quarantine returning Australians as it looks to tighten procedures as new strains of the coronavirus emerge.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state was “looking at all options”, and would take the mining camp proposal to the next meeting of national cabinet on January 22.
“With this new strain, we have to put all options on the table and these are sensible, rational options,” she said on Thursday.
“Howard Springs works very well in the Northern Territory and there’s no reason why we couldn’t do something similar here in Queensland or if not around the country.”
Howard Springs is a former migrant workers’ camp near Darwin that is being used to quarantine international arrivals and interstate travellers.
Ms Palaszczuk said many of the mining camps Queensland could use in similar circumstances were “four-star”.
“They are of a very good quality high standard. My understanding is some of them have – most of them – the ones we’re looking at have balconies, so there’s a lot of fresh air for guests and also, too, there’s the capacity for all of the staff and the cleaners and everyone to also be based on those sites as well.”
Queensland health authorities moved 129 people out of Brisbane’s Grand Chancellor hotel on Wednesday after uncovering links between six infections of current and former guests. Just how the virus was transmitted between the guests is still being investigated.
More than 200 current and former staff have been contacted and are in isolation, along with nearly 150 former guests, as health authorities try to trace any further infections.
Queensland had four more COVID infections on Thursday, all in quarantine in other hotels. There were none linked to the Grand Chancellor.
The hotel outbreak emerged after a quarantine cleaner contracted the highly contagious British strain of the coronavirus. She has also passed it on to her partner.
The other cases are in current and former Grand Chancellor guests.
Ms Palaszczuk said the outbreak had triggered a rethink on quarantine.
“If we are dealing with a strain which is up to 70 per cent more infectious, I think we need to be really serious about it,” she said.
“We are looking at alternative plans to hotel quarantine that is based, you know, right in the midst of CBD where you have a whole lot of staff that come in from all around and you have airports – people flying in and out of airports.”
However, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard shot down the idea, saying said using remote sites for quarantine would be of no benefit to his state.
“We have a very effective hotel quarantine system. More than 114,000 people have been through that system. And every day there’s 3500 health and police and other staff who are actually making sure our hotel quarantine system works,” he said.
“For us, there’s no benefit in considering such a proposition. But for Queensland, of course, they can consider whatever they think is appropriate for their Queensland environment.”
Mr Hazzard also raised potential issues with transferring sick people from remote areas to suitable treatment at major hospitals in metropolitan areas.
“We have more than the entire patient load of Royal North Shore Hospital in our special health accommodation facilities,” he said.
“On the basis of three [quarantine breaches] now, it would not be logical for us to move that arrangement out of Sydney and nor would it be fair or practical.”
NSW has tracked down 10 people linked to the Grand Chancellor. All are in isolation and being tested.