News Coronavirus Capacity to double at Howard Springs quarantine base

Capacity to double at Howard Springs quarantine base

howard springs virus capacity
The federal government will double quarantine capacity at Howard Springs, near Darwin. Photo: AAP
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More stranded Australians will soon be able to return each fortnight with a quarantine facility in the Top End given the all clear to increase its capacity.

Capacity at the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin will increase to 2000 per fortnight up from 850, in coming months.

The decision was made on Friday at a national cabinet meeting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders.

Chief nurse Alison McMillan recently travelled to the Howard Springs site to see what the capacity could be increased to.

Mr 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 accepted 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.

Senator Birmingham said other states were carrying the load.

“It would be a much fairer arrangement if Victoria did its bit,” he said.

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

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

The leaders were also given an update on Australia’s virus vaccine rollout.

As of Thursday night, more than 71,000 people have been vaccinated, 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 came as the first AstraZeneca jabs were 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.

Mr 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, in which Italy was supported 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,” Mr Hunt said.

He said while 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca were due to arrive from overseas, 50 million are being made 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 federal government’s decision to lock in local manufacturing would protect against “vaccine nationalism”.