Experts warn against billionaires’ plans for privately run Australian quarantine centres | Health

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A former World Health Organization epidemiologist has warned against outsourcing the operation of Australian quarantine facilities to the private sector after two billionaires proposed building facilities near their privately owned airports.

Lindsay Fox, whose company Linfox owns Avalon airport, has proposed using nearby vacant land to house 400 caravans or cabins for returned travellers. The airport’s chief executive, Justin Giddings, said the proposal was being discussed with the state government and local council, and that he was happy to discuss either leasing the land to the government or the company building the facility itself.

The proposal comes less than a week after Wagner Corporation, which owns the Wellcamp airport near Toowoomba, said it would build and operate a 1,000-person quarantine hub.

The proponent, John Wagner, said it would be a for-profit facility, making money by charging returned travellers for their stay, and would possibly contract out the provision of health services to a specialist health contractor such as Aspen Medical.

Providing further detail on the proposal on Tuesday, Wagner said the Queensland government would oversee health and security services, with the company’s role limited to building and maintaining the facility and supplying food and drink to travellers.

“Queensland Health will administer the facility from a health perspective and Queensland Police will look after all security,” he said.

Cleaning would be conducted by a local “Covid-approved” company, overseen by Queensland Health, he said.

The Wagners’ proposal has received the backing of the Queensland deputy premier, Steven Miles, who has now urged the federal government to give its support.

“We’ve put forward a lot of information, we’ve answered a lot of questions and now it’s really up to the federal government to decide whether they will act to keep communities safe,” Miles said.

Both the Linfox and Wagner Corporation proposals are beneficial because they have ready access to airports and hospitals, and are removed from metropolitan cities, limiting the likelihood of further costly lockdowns. Such an approach has been adopted in the government-run Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, which has been commended by health experts and the author of the review of Australia’s quarantine system, Jane Halton.

But the billionaires’ proposals have also raised some concern among health experts, who say responsibility for the operation of quarantine facilities should rest entirely with government, not the private sector.

Prof Adrian Esterman, an ex-World Health Organization epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, said his preference would be for the private developers to simply build the centres and lease them back to government.

“I would prefer the centres run and funded by the federal government, probably making heavy use of the ADF,” he said.

“Have you seen how well the private prisons work in the USA? And how well did having private security guards work in Victoria quarantine hotels?”

That echoes the concerns of Australian National University infectious diseases physician, Prof Peter Collignon, who last week expressed serious concern about allowing a private company to have responsibility for governance of such a facility.

“The only thing I don’t like about the idea, I think it is very important that the governance of this – it sounds esoteric – is under the health department and the police,” Collignon said. “I don’t think this is the sort of thing that should be privatised. To some degree that was the problem in Melbourne last winter.”

Brendan Coates, who has written on quarantine for the Grattan Institute, strongly endorsed the establishment of standalone quarantine facilities in regional areas, saying the cost of their construction pales into insignificance next to the cost of lockdowns in metropolitan cities.

But he told the Guardian any private provision of quarantine would need to be strictly controlled using contractually-imposed high standards.

Coates told the Guardian that social impact bonds could be used to punish private operators that allow transmission out of the facilities.

“If they fail to meet the terms there are very high costs for the private providers involved, they’ve got to basically post the bond that they lose as soon there’s any leakage or any breach of quarantine,” he said.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Experts warn against billionaires’ plans for privately run Australian quarantine centres | Health

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