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The Wagner Corporation proposal to build a for-profit quarantine facility next to its international airport in Toowoomba has prompted some anxiety among health experts and local clinicians, who fear the region is not equipped to deal with a major Covid-19 outbreak.
The property developer has proposed building a quarantine facility five minutes from its Wellcamp airport, as a way of easing the considerable strain on the national quarantine system.
The facility, which would house 1,300 people, including 1,000 arrivals and 300 staff, is currently the subject of negotiations with both state and federal governments.
On Monday, company chair John Wagner confirmed the facility would be for-profit and said the Wagner Corporation would have just as much expertise in running a quarantine facility as the Queensland Department of Health.
He told the Guardian the idea was still in its early stages and had only been the subject of negotiations with the state government for two weeks.
But the Australian Medical Association has raised some concerns about the proposal, which it wants addressed before any decision is made.
AMA Queensland deputy president Dr Bav Manoharan said the local health system will struggle to deal with a major outbreak if one was to occur due to the heightened risk posed by a quarantine facility.
“[Toowoomba] have very good staff and they can manage it, at that small scale,” he said.
“But if you have a mass outbreak, it’s going to very quickly stretch that health system. So we need to see what the plans would be for engagement with the public health system, but also in terms of the community sector. How are we going to engage with the GPs, who will be seeing patients with flu-like symptoms and potentially having Covid?”
“There’s a lot of anxiety in the local health community in Toowoomba following the announcement. They worry this is all going to be done without engagement with them.”
Wagner agreed such issues required careful and detailed planning. But he stressed that the Wagner Corporation was only in very early stages of negotiating with state and federal governments.
“If it gets legs, then we’ll be working through that, the state government will be working through that with us and others and the medical fraternity to sort it out,” he told the Guardian.
He said Wagner Corporation’s role would be to build the facility, maintain the facility, supply the food to government specifications, and sub-contract the cleaning.
Wagner said his company had no medical expertise and would likely rely on a health contractor to help run it.
“It may actually be that we get another company, like an Aspen Medical or someone, to come in and help us run it, or run it totally. It’s too early days to work this out,” he told the Guardian.
Australian National University infectious diseases physician, Prof Peter Collignon, said the concept of building a facility in Toowoomba – with ready access to an airport and hospital – was a good one.
But he expressed serious concern about allowing a private company to have responsibility for governance. Ultimate responsibility for the operation of a quarantine facility must sit with government, he said.
“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.”
Dr Manoharan also expressed concern about attracting the requisite workforce, given the need to lock down at the facility.
“That’s a real consideration in terms of workforce, because already there’s a situation where we are looking at regional areas that struggle at the best of times to attract suitable trained, experienced workforces,” he said. “In that environment … how are you going to get 300, or however many, fairly highly-trained staff to one, go out to these regions, but also to work in an environment where they can’t just fly-in, fly-out, or drive-in, drive-out if you’re from Toowoomba.
“I suspect there needs to be a lot of planning around that.”
Wagner said the workforce proposal was not dissimilar to that employed at mining camps, which allow staff to fly in, live on a worksite for 14 days, and then fly out.
He said the benefit of the model was to stop workers from working multiple jobs, creating additional risk of transmission.
“Some of these cleaners in these hotels in Brisbane are working two or three jobs,” he said.
“They go home to their family, the local shopping centre, the school, then they go clean somewhere else. It’s crazy.”
Wagner said he has had no direct communications with the federal government at this stage.
Source: The Guardian
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