The federal government has committed to building a quarantine facility in Victoria and is exploring sites in Queensland and Western Australia for travellers coming into Australia.
The government has come under fire in recent months for not doing enough to contain outbreaks of COVID-19 coming from quarantine facilities and now appears to be upping its game in response to the continuing outbreaks across the country.
Just this morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a snap lockdown of four local council areas in the Sydney region while Victoria recorded two new cases of community transmission and Queensland recorded one.
These cases are all thought to be linked to the man from Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs who drives limousines for a living for people coming from Sydney airport.
Melbourne’s recent outbreak was also down to a leak from hotel quarantine and health experts have been warning the government that the deserted hotels usually filled with tourists that have become makeshift quarantine sites during the pandemic are simply not fit for purpose.
Now it seems the government has taken heed of the message and is planning purpose-built quarantine facilities. Here’s what we know about them:
Like the various islands and holding stations of old during historical outbreaks of Spanish Flu and other pandemic diseases, we’re essentially building secure isolation chambers to keep people coming into the country from spreading COVID.
The Federal Government has decided to build a quarantine facility on Commonwealth land at Mickleham, in northern Melbourne, which is estimated to finish construction before the end of the year.
Potential quarantine sites in Queensland and Western Australia have also been identified by the Commonwealth.
Writing to the QLD and WA premiers on Thursday night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has proposed the Damascus Army Barracks in Pinkenba, five minutes from Brisbane Airport and areas around either of the Perth airports as sites for the new COVID-19 quarantine hubs.
The Damascus Barracks is approximately 30 hectares and is currently being used as storage by the Defence Department.
Criteria for the chosen sites include:
- Within approximately one hour’s vehicle transport to a tertiary hospital.
- Within reasonable proximity to an international airport taking regularly scheduled international commercial passenger flights (with limited bus transfer).
- Commonwealth owned, to provide an enduring asset to support increased resilience capability.
What will they be like?
The Victorian facility was initially budgeted by the state to cost $15 million but there is a suggestion that the Commonwealth may instead cover the costs.
The site is supposed to have a 1,000-bed capacity, but only 500 of those beds will be available when it first opens to get the site up and running as soon as possible.
The QLD facility is supposed to be of a similar capacity, as is the one in Perth.
The Northern Territory already has a dedicated quarantine site called Howard Springs and it’s assumed that the quarantine sites built in other states will follow similar models.
There will likely be as little face-to-face interaction as possible at the quarantine sites, with individuals or groups allocated their own rooms and essentially made to wait for 14 days until they’re deemed not to be carriers of the virus.
Rooms will likely encompass a bed or multiple beds, a TV, wardrobe, and bathroom. It’ll pretty much be like a hotel but with far more stringent safety protocols and fewer chances for the virus to pass from room to room via connected air vents and other means.
The facilities will likely not have any communal areas like kids play areas, which will be tough for those with young children.
Shared kitchen and laundry facilities will also be ruled out.
The accommodation will likely be basic, simple, easy to clean, and have all the amenities you would need to survive 14 days in isolation. We’re hoping the Wi-Fi signal is good.
Who will use them?
Australia currently still has caps on the numbers of people entering the country. This is because our hotel quarantine facilities can only accommodate so many, so it’s likely that more people will be allowed to travel into Australia once these facilities are up and running.
Anyone flying into a state with a quarantine facility will likely be escorted straight from the airport to the facility where they will spend the following two weeks.
It’s unclear yet as to whether celebrities will be able to bypass these laws and quarantine in their own homes.
Australia has no plans to open the borders for at least another 11 months as ruled during the Federal Budget in May. These facilities could therefore be used for six months or more from the time at which they are opened.