The Queensland government has started work on a COVID-19 quarantine camp near Toowoomba without federal government support, one day after it halted hotel quarantine for interstate travellers.
The state has halted hotel quarantine for people from hotspots in NSW, Victoria and the ACT for two weeks amid a surge in arrivals, which has pushed the system past capacity.
Queensland and the federal government have been working on plans for an 800-bed quarantine facility at Pinkenba in Brisbane, but the state has long pushed for a second 1000-bed facility at Wellcamp near Toowoomba.
The Commonwealth rejected Wellcamp as it did not meet expectations. It was deemed “unsuitable” by Health Minister Greg Hunt in June.
But Ms Palaszczuk is moving ahead with the Wellcamp project, being built by the Wagner Group, without federal support. Construction is already underway.
On Thursday, she said 500 beds would be open by the end of the year, with another 500 to come online by the first quarter of 2022.
“This is going to be a great boost for our defence against the Delta virus in this country and, in fact, I believe we need regional facilities right across the country,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“We are going to be dealing with Delta for some time, and if we want to open Australia, we want to open our states up, regional quarantine facilities are the second part of the answer – the first part of the answer is vaccines.”
The facility will have a mix of single, double and family rooms in cabin-style accommodation without any adjoining hallways. Initially, the state will rent it off the Wagner family for a year.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said virus patients would be treated at Queensland’s existing five COVID-19 hospitals.
He said other health and policing staffing arrangements were being worked out, but the facility was worth the cost even if it helped prevent just one coronavirus lockdown.
“We can ensure that it replaces current hotel quarantine usage,” Mr Miles said.
Meanwhile, Queensland police say NSW, Victoria and ACT residents can still apply for an exemption to enter Queensland if they have a compelling reason, over the next fortnight.
Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the state was still allowing people in on medical or compassionate grounds.
“If people have still got a really compelling reason to come back they can still apply for an exemption,” he told Nine’s Today program on Thursday.
“We’re not locking everyone out.”
Ms Palaszczuk said on Wednesday there were more than 5114 people in hotel quarantine, including 3257 domestic arrivals, which was putting too much strain on the system’s 22 hotels.
A new system is being set up to allocate specific hotel quarantine rooms for travellers from September 8.
Elsewhere, about 120 Australian Defence Force troops are backing up police at NSW border checkpoints.
At present, only certain essential workers who have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are allowed to drive into Queensland.
Queensland had no new local cases of COVID-19 and two cases in hotel quarantine on Thursday.