Australia COVID quarantine villages could house returning Australians from overseas hotspots
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Quarantine "villages" could be built in less than a year to house Australians desperate to return from overseas COVID hotspots and decrease the country's reliance on hotel quarantine, mining camp designers say.
Businesses which normally build remote accommodation camps for the resources industry are fine-tuning proposals, estimating the cost of the quarantine hubs to be anywhere between $80 million and $200 million.
It comes as infectious disease experts back a move away from hotel quarantine, warning not only will COVID-19 continue to be a risk to the community in the short term, but there may be more pandemics to come.
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It is difficult to reconcile the concept of being a citizen of a democratic country while being trapped by one's own government, unable to leave Australia or to return.It is difficult to reconcile the concept of being a citizen of a democratic country while being trapped by one's own government, unable to leave Australia (through the absolute ban on people leaving the country) or to return. With these recent measures, two of the very touchstones of a democracy are being trashed at a stroke; measures that no other democratic country has taken.
In a warehouse in West Perth, the team at Grounded Construction Group is finalising a proposal to put to the Western Australian Government — a 1,000-bed quarantine hub on private land, near Mandurah, 70 kilometres south of Perth's international airport.
"WA has been building mining camps for the last 50 years plus," says the company's project estimator, Courtney Graham.
"We've got the capacity here, we've got the skillset."
WA has, prompting Premier Mark McGowan to order a review of options outside hotel quarantine.
Last month's three-day lockdown is.
It was sparked by the.
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"We will review everything and see if there are any other options out there," Mr McGowan told ABC Perth at the end of the lockdown period.
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While the Premier has all but ruled out commissioning a purpose-built facility, the Grounded group is preparing its proposal in case there is a change of position.
It has already built facilities for hundreds of employees working for major miners including Fortescue Metals Group and Rio Tinto.
Mr Graham said unlike those facilities, the quarantine camp would provide accommodation for families and couples, as well as singles.
"For something of this scale, pending government approvals and development approvals, anywhere between eight and 12 months, you could have this thing up and running," Mr Graham said.
"You would be looking at anywhere between $80 and $100 million dollars."
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, referring to Commonwealth-owned quarantine facilities such as Curtin Air Base, Yongah Hill [immigration detention centre] in Northam and Christmas Island.
But the Federal Government has so far refused to relinquish those facilities for quarantine.
"I don't want to go down the course of commissioning and building a facility that might be worth hundreds of millions of dollars if we're not going to need it," Mr McGowan said.
Quarantine will be needed for some time to come, expert says
But even as the vaccination program was extended to people aged over 50 this week, public health experts have warned quarantine may still be needed.
"We must take into account that it could mutate and become more virulent and lead to a situation where we still have to quarantine people, even with the same vaccination program that we have," said Dr Barbara Nattabi, a senior lecturer at UWA's School of Population and Global Health.
"Australia mustn't think this is the end of pandemics," Dr Nattabi said.
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Dr Nattabi pointed to the example of Singapore which has heavily invested in infectious disease infrastructure including a 330-bed National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
"COVID-19 is not the last disease that we should expect ... any investment into infectious diseases control will ultimately save the economy and our health," she said.
Balconies, neighbourhoods key to design
The Howard Springs village, near Darwin, is being held up as Australia's best-practice quarantine facility.
The company that built it — originally as an oil and gas workers' village — said the camp's layout helped in re-purposing it to suit infection control.
"Neighbourhoods and spaces that are generous and that afford people space ... [have] given them the ability to overlay the IPC — which is the infection protection control overlay — very efficiently," AECOM design director James Dorrat said.
Mr Dorrat said the Howard Springs facility had also proven suitable from a mental health point of view because of the verandas attached to each room.
"What we've found from our research is that those balconies have proved critical in keeping people happy," he said.
"Whilst they are still confined to the balcony, it affords operational opportunities to test and meet people outside of their rooms."
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Mr Dorrat said his company had been working on a business case for, using input from stakeholders and interviews carried out at Howard Springs.
A recent investigation by the Victorian Government into alternative quarantine accommodation recommended a permanent, purpose-built facility be established.
Plans for the facility.
Mr Dorrat estimated a similar 1,000 bed facility in WA would cost between $150-$200 million and require about 14 hectares of land.
"We design these things all the time, there's lots of remote resource accommodation facilities, but eight to 10 months is probably the minimum [timeframe].
"And that's possibly only for the first phase of probably 500 beds.
"I don't see it as a problem from a skill-based point of view or from a construction point of view for WA."
Benefits to quarantine in remote locations
Following the recent COVID-19 outbreaks from hotel quarantine, the State Government has, reducing the number of returning travellers who may enter WA.
Professor Ben Mullins, from Curtin University's School of Population Health, agreed with the Premier that hotels were not built for quarantine purposes.
WA has dozens of mining camps and Professor Mullins said the government should be considering re-purposing those facilities as soon as possible.
"The concern is that we're going to see a rise in infection rates over winter," Professor Mullins said.
"I think there's probably a good chance that the government would be able to find suitable facilities that need minimal refitting and can be used for this purpose without too much cost."
He said there were also advantages in having a quarantine village in a remote location — particularly the reduced chance of transmission of the virus into the community.
Moving sick travellers out of the facility was also achievable, he said.
"Most of them have an airstrip next to them, most of them have at least some medical facilities there."
Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Paul Everingham said the peak mining body had not been approached by the State Government over alternative quarantine accommodation.
"The mining and resources sector has always said that it would assist authorities wherever possible in relation to COVID-19, as part of its strong focus on keeping communities safe during the pandemic," Mr Everingham said.
Vaccinated Australians may be able to go overseas with home quarantine .
The federal budget assumes Australia's borders will not open until mid-2022, but the prime minister said there could be a chance for holidays before then.The federal budget assumes Australia's borders will not open until mid-2022, but the prime minister said there could be a chance for overseas holidays before then.