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The federal government is continuing to resist calls from Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia to establish dedicated quarantine facilities to reduce the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks from hotel quarantine, with health minister Greg Hunt calling the system “the best in the world”.
On Monday, WA premier Mark McGowan announced the end of a three-day lockdown brought on by Covid transmission in the Mercure hotel between rooms, which then spread to the community.
McGowan said he would drop the number of people returning from overseas and moving through hotel quarantine in Western Australia because the federal government refused to take responsibility for quarantine.
“The commonwealth does have facilities that were built for these sorts of reasons, I know the commonwealth doesn’t want to do it and I’ve heard all the arguments, but basically they don’t want to do it because it is risk,” he said.
“It is risk for them and I understand that argument, I think they should be honest about it. It is risk for them but if they are not prepared to do it, we will just have to drop the number of returning people into Australia. That will be sad for many families but we can’t go through these sorts of events, so we will drop the number.”
The federal government has agreed to halve the number of arrivals into WA from 1,025 to 512 a week from later this week.
But the federal health minister said there was no need to change the hotel quarantine system.
Hunt said half a million Australians had come home through hotel quarantine since March last year, and despite the small number of outbreaks, he believed Australia had the best quarantine system in the world.
“That’s why in a world of 800,000 cases a day, Australia has zero. Zero not just once or twice or three times, but 69 times already this year,” he said.
“So I think it is very important that we put into perspective we already have arguably the best and most effective system in the world. We have brought half a million people home from mid-March.”
However, the federal government has cut flights from India by a third due to its surging case numbers and is reportedly considering further reductions in arrivals from the country.
McGowan has also indicated WA will permanently take fewer people while hotels were still being relied upon.
“Hotels were not built for this purpose … we need to recalibrate how many people we can take,” he said.
“There is no perfect system, but what we need to do is have more manageable numbers.”
The WA outbreak is the latest in a series of clusters linked to hotel quarantine in the past few months, with two in Queensland, two in New South Wales, and two in Victoria. The problem has spurred calls from a number of states for the federal government to take over and establish dedicated facilities.
Federal shadow health minister, Mark Butler, said the federal government should establish dedicated quarantine facilities with open air.
“What I would say is that hotel quarantine was a relatively short to medium term option to deal with Australians needing to come back home,” he said. “Scott Morrison was briefed on that need as far back as last year. He has done nothing to further it. It is his responsibility quarantine. It is his job to fix this mess.”
He said a national quarantine system should have national standards.
“At the end of the day we have one set of international borders. Australians, no matter what state they’re in, should feel confident that there is a quarantine arrangement in place to allow people to come home. We want Australians to be able to come home but to do so in a way that protects the broader community,” he said.
Victoria’s acting premier, James Merlino, said alternatives to hotel quarantine now needed to be considered.
“We have been clear that hyper-infectious, fast-moving strains of coronavirus mean we need to consider alternative models to existing hotel quarantine – we would welcome increased involvement from the commonwealth,” he said.
A spokesperson for Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she had been advocating for a quarantine centre to be built at Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba for a long time and prime minister Scott Morrison had not yet responded to the suggestion.
However, the premier of the state taking the most returning travellers, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian, said the states had agreed to take on the responsibility for quarantine since the start of the pandemic.
“What we are responsible for is making sure we have the strongest system available. No system is perfect. Ours in New South Wales certainly isn’t perfect but we have made sure that every time there has been some incident we have learned from it and built on it and I am really proud of the way in which everyone has come together in New South Wales to provide the best service we can,” she said.
Berejiklian said there would be outbreaks and failures in hotel quarantine, but the states should learn from those errors.
“We are in a pandemic – we have to accept that. But it is also time for us, when it is our responsibility, to take that responsibility to learn and to make our system as strong as possible.”
McGowan said that states had signed up to the agreement on hotel quarantine 14 months ago.
“Since then we have learned a lot, and we now know that our hotels were not built for or designed for this purpose,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
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