Victoria is examining building purpose-built quarantine camps outside the CBD, with the Premier stating it presents a “lower risk” than hotel quarantine.
Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday his government was “actively pursuing” the construction of a purpose-built quarantine facility to mitigate the risk of taking return travellers.
Mr Andrews said the move had been endorsed by the state cabinet and the centre would probably largely replace the inner-city hotels.
There have been several outbreaks of the coronavirus from hotel quarantine across Australia in recent months.
On Friday, millions of Victorians were plunged into another hard lockdown after a leak from the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn sparked a virus outbreak in the community.
The snap five-day “circuit breaker” lockdown has been met with frustration and has cost businesses millions of dollars in lost Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year trade.
On Tuesday, the state recorded two new positive cases in the community, both linked to the Holiday Inn cluster.
Mr Andrews said restrictions were working and while he refused to give a definitive answer on when the lockdown would end, signalled the state was “well-placed” to ease restrictions on Wednesday.
Mr Andrews said a purpose-built quarantine centre would be based heavily on the Howard Springs facility, keeping travellers more apart.
“People would be in the same location but would not be sharing the same spaces, so they’re not under the same roofline,” he said.
“It would be a cabin-style, village-style environment, where there would be fresh air, where there would be not zero risk but lower risk.”
Howard Springs, a former workers’ camp near Darwin, was one of the first locations to house returning overseas travellers in the pandemic. It took Australians evacuated from the virus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
The federal government is considering expanding the capacity of the Howard Springs camps, which can can currently quarantine about 850 people per fortnight.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt said discussions had been taking place with the Northern Territory about increasing the program.
“They will advise us what is the next level they can increase it to (sic) subject to the very simple condition of what’s the safe operating capacity,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Andrews expressed confidence in a similar style of quarantine to take place in Victoria.
“It’s more than just scoping it. We are going to get on and build a facility. It’s just a matter of how big it is and the more precise details of where,” he said.
Avalon Airport and Melbourne Airport (Tullamarine) are the two locations being considered.
Avalon Airport chief executive Justin Giddings said he had not been approached by the state government about the proposal, but had discussed it with politicians and his local council.
“I think this is a really good idea,” Mr Giddings said.
“I think it would be a good system and one that might complement the hotel quarantine system.”
He suggested the centre would include up to 400 caravans or cabins on 1700 hectares of vacant land owned by the airport.
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said a quarantine centre was a “brilliant idea”.
“There’s no question an open-air setting with a real distance between rooms is kind of infrastructurally what we’d all love to see,” Mr Sutton told ABC Radio Melbourne on Monday.
Mr Andrews also said “compelling arguments” among his interstate counterparts, who intend to impose a similar system, helped to push the issue.
‘Lights have come on’ in Vic
On Tuesday, Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles and treasurer Cameron Dick met Wagner Corporation chairman John Wagner to discuss a possible quarantine centre near Toowoomba.
Mr Wagner’s development and investment company has proposed the Toowoomba Wellcamp project.
Asked about Mr Andrews’ proposal, Mr Wagner said “the lights have come on” down south.
The Queensland build has been proposed to the federal government as a self-funded national quarantine centre.
Mr Wagner said it would be funded by returning visitors paying their own way.
“We are not asking any level of government for any funding for this project,” he said.
He said Howard Springs was working well, and Queensland hoped to adopt a similar model at the Wellcamp centre at Toowoomba.
Mr Miles urged the federal government to take more responsibility for the quarantine of return travellers, saying it should not be up to states and territories to shoulder the burden.
“We’re obviously still keen to be involved, but the federal government needs to take more responsibility,” he said.