Federal quarantine facilities in remote areas should be considered after repeated failures of state-run inner city hotel quarantine

Now that COVID has escaped from inner-city hotels in four cities, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth, our governments should finally realise we need to do things differently. Otherwise our economic recovery will be jeopardised by repeated “short, sharp” lockdowns that our Chief Health Officers will regrettably recommend if they see even one case of community transmission of a mutant strain.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has tried to get her own remote quarantine program up and running near Gladstone, but her efforts have failed with the local Mayor refusing to cooperate, as reported by The Australian. Arguably, it’s time for the level of government which actually has responsibility for quarantine, the federal government, to take over, as state governments may be too financially constrained to think on the right scale of what is needed.

As regular QEW reader Paul has previously suggested, the federal government could set up dedicated quarantine facilities in remote areas, possibly near remote RAAF bases to allow for flights in and out. I quoted Paul in my post on the Grand Chancellor COVID incident and I think his comments are still relevant and worth reading. Perhaps the planning for remote federal quarantine facilities needed to start last year, and it would take the rest of 2021 to proceed from planning to procurement to construction, by which time COVID should be much less of a threat due to widespread vaccination (hopefully). We may have to make do with state-run hotel quarantine for the rest of this pandemic, but we should probably include federal quarantine facilities in remote locations in our plans for future pandemics.

Inner city hotels, such as the Grand Chancellor at Spring Hill, Brisbane, only 300 metres away from my office, probably aren’t the best places to run a quarantine program.

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7 Responses to Federal quarantine facilities in remote areas should be considered after repeated failures of state-run inner city hotel quarantine

  1. Arthur Hunt says:

    I totally agree. There is a number of abandoned resorts along the Queensland coast which could be refurbished and used for this purpose, some with airports nearby. They may not be six-star but I am sure there are thousands of Australians stranded overseas who would settle for almost any accommodation if it meant they could get home.
    Rockhampton airport can take international flights and Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area is within bus distance. This would be another option.

  2. Paul says:

    How long to build quarantine facilities. Capital works projects in government normally involve many months of planning, approvals etc and many more months/years of construction. This is the normal experience of bureaucrats and politicians. But engineers build to a triangle of cost, quality and time. For them quality is fixed and increasing the time is the only variable to reduce the cost (no overtime, penalty rates etc). If you give them a deadline that something has to be built by a certain time then engineers can do it but the cost will be higher than if they were given more time. Treasury understandably sees cost as the key metric – not time – so engineers adapt their triangle priorities to suit, to get funding approved. Treasury and politicians don’t think like engineers.

    How to do it. The Qld Coordinator General has virtually Henry VIII powers and could sweep away any approval requirements/delays at the stroke of a pen (eg a state priority project). Tenders (with a one week closing period) could be called for a quarantine facility to be constructed (or existing facility refurbished) within one month. Chinese engineers did it in one week. Australian engineers could certainly match that – one month would be no problem at all. Give engineers a deadline and enough money and they will put a man on the moon, as they did before the end of the 60s decade. Deadlines are not a new idea. During the water crisis around 2007/8, when SEQ had only 12 months water supply left, engineers were given a deadline to build desal, recycling etc water facilities before the SEQ dams ran dry. They, together with the Coordinator General’s Henry VIII powers, ensured that the deadlines were met. For public servants, accustomed to everything happening at glacial pace, it was really amazing (and surprising) to see how fast government can move if it wants to.

    Quarantine facilities could easily be built and operating at remote locations before the end of March 2021. It will not be until the end of 2021 before all 25M Australian residents will be vaccinated and likely 2022 before overseas travelers (returning Australians and immigrants) from other countries are also. The cost of these purpose built facilities (or refurbishing existing facilities) will be far less than the inevitable on again, off again city/statewide lock-downs from the demonstrated failure of hotel quarantine in major cities.

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Hi Paul, thanks for the comment. I agree the cost would be far less than the cost of lockdowns. I’m just less optimistic regarding how quickly this could get done, even in a crisis. Possibly I’m being too pessimistic, and your example from the SEQ water crisis is a good one.

  3. Peter Maver says:

    At 20°C we found that the virus was extremely robust. We were able to recover infectious material at 28 days from all the smooth (non-porous) surfaces. These are stainless steel, glass, vinyl, and paper and polymer banknotes. The recovery of SARS-CoV-2 from the porous material (cotton cloth) at 20°C was much shorter with no viable virus surviving past 14 days
    Source CSIRO – https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Health/Infectious-diseases-coronavirus/Understanding-the-virus/how-long-the-virus-can-survive
    You tell me why anyone would put infected or possibly infected people in a high rise of any type?

  4. Katrina Drake says:

    You may not have heard of the Wagner proposal for a purpose built 1000 room quarantine facility serviced by Wellcamp airport west of Toowoomba.

    Refurbished resorts, CBD hotels, and mining camps were not designed for the isolation, medical and amenity requirements of a purpose built quarantine facility. These buildings are not suitable for quarantine. Hence the many complaints from ‘guests’ of lack of amenity, lack of access to outside, lack of provisions for families and small children in hotel quarantine, cross contamination in lifts and building services.

    It is forecast that pandemics will become more frequent in the future due to population increases, global travel, global warming and intensive farming.

    Australia has always taken biological quarantine very seriously. A purpose built quarantine facility would be a good national investment. In hindsight, it was probably unwise for governments to dismantle and abandon the quarantine stations that existed, that were used in past pandemics, and not replace them with modern equivalents.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-25/wagners-flag-covid-quarantine-facility-west-of-brisbane/13087738

    • Dana says:

      Personally I would not want returning Aussie residents/citizens quarantined near Toowoomba Wellcamp airport; most of our cases in Australia have come in from returned travellers and would probably infect those providing security, meals, etc. and then into our community. Being in the vulnerable age group, I prefer not to risk contagion.

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