The Prime Minister is expected to come under pressure from the states about hotel quarantine at Friday’s national cabinet meeting after virus leaks in Victoria, Western Australiaand Queensland.
The states are demanding more creative ways to quarantine and greater federal oversight after recent snap lockdowns in WA and Queensland and the return of restrictions in Victoria, all stemming from leaks in the quarantine system.
It comes as an investigation into Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor could provide answers about how a cleaner contracted COVID, resulting in six infections and the city’s three-day lockdown.
Queensland police have been investigating the cleaner’s case and suspected transmission between guests on the hotel’s seventh floor. On Thursday, state Health Minister Yvette D’Ath confirmed she had received the report.
“We have ruled out the air-conditioning because the two rooms were on different air-conditioning systems,” she said.
“There is no breach of a hotel worker going into rooms against protocol and there is no evidence of people … guests, who were quarantining in their rooms, breaching that protocol and coming out against those practices.”
Meanwhile, PM Scott Morrison said the government was considering a facility near Toowoomba, which is about two hours west of Brisbane and has an international airport built in 2014.
The facility, which could have 1000 rooms for travellers and staff, would be built near the city’s privately funded Wellcamp Airport. Guests would go straight from the tarmac to quarantine.
Mr Morrison said he would writ to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk regarding the proposal from Toowoomba firm Wagners to build 1000 rooms for travellers and 300 for staff.
He has already rejected the Premier’s suggestion of using a mining camp near the central Queensland industrial town of Gladstone.
Federal Labor’s health spokesman, Mark Butler, said Mr Morrison could not “sit on his hands” and wait for solutions from the states.
“The constitution is very clear – national quarantine arrangements for people returning from overseas are the responsibility of the Commonwealth government,” Mr Butler said.
Mr Morrison said the government was open to “good proposals” to supplement the hotel system.
But he said it was unrealistic to think anything could replace the border control program to allow people to safely enter from overseas.
“It remains the case that the most effective way to deliver at the scale that Australia needs … [is] hotel quarantine,” he said.
“That remains the advice I have from my experts and the alternative is not that clear to me.”
What is the point of the federal government? The constitution says its responsibility is international quarantine to keep the nation free of contagion.@ScottMorrisonMP today says he’s waiting for any suggestions on federal quarantine possibilities.
WAITING? Do your job.
— Paul Bongiorno (@PaulBongiorno) February 4, 2021
So far, more than 211,000 people have returned from overseas during the pandemic.
Most have gone through the hotel system, but others have stayed at the Howard Springs camp near Darwin. It has been funded by the federal government to the tune of $243 million.
Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said the government had the results of a quarantine review to work with, outlining a new “risk management approach”.
“Scott Morrison’s risk management approach is to simply manage his own political risks and to put that risk onto the state premiers,” she said.
Possible solutions included a federally run quarantine facility for surge capacity, more rigorous testing before people get on a plane and when they land and voluntary home quarantine with monitoring devices.
Victoria has reinstated compulsory face masks and gathering limits after a worker from a hotel of Australian Open players and staff tested positive.
It is still unknown if the man is carrying a more-virulent international variant of the virus. Results of genomic testing are expected on Friday.
WA is four days into a five-day lockdown after a hotel security guard contracted the highly contagious British strain of the virus from an infected guest.
Premier Mark McGowan wants the Christmas Island detention centre to be used for quarantine, as it was at the start of the pandemic, but the federal government twice rejected him.
Federal minister Michael Sukkar said it was “attractive” to think there could be national standards for quarantine.
“But we have to understand that states and territories have consistently made the point that they will be the final decision-maker for arrangements within their own state,” he told the ABC.
National cabinet will also receive an economic briefing from Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy and a medical update, as well as the latest details on the vaccine strategy, international arrivals and seasonal workers.