Australia Queensland Health to call in debt collectors over more than $52m unpaid hotel COVID-19 quarantine bills
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As its budget is handed down, Queensland follows the federal government and Victoria in revising projections for overall post-pandemic bottom line.The Queensland government has promised the state's economy will be in the black by 2024 and grow at more than 3 per cent in the coming 12 months in another sign of Australia's faster-than-expected recovery from the devastation of COVID-19.
Queensland Health says it will engage private debt collectors within weeks to recoup millions of dollars in unpaid hotel quarantine bills.
Since travellers began paying for their own hotel quarantine in Queensland last July, nearly 30,000 invoices have been issued — worth a collective $87.7 million.
But only 44 per cent of the invoices have been paid either in full or in part, leaving more than $52 million outstanding.
Queensland Health said 18 per cent of those bills were overdue for payment and that 9.7 per cent were significantly overdue.
"Queenslanders rightly expect travellers will pay for their hotel quarantine stays and not leave taxpayers to foot the bill," a Queensland Health spokesperson said.
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NSW Health is investigating the source of a COVID-19 case in hotel quarantine which has an identical viral sequence to two cases in an adjacent room.It's unclear how and where transmission occurred from a couple to another returned traveller who were all staying on the fourth floor of Sydney's Radisson Blu quarantine hotel.
"Until recently, we have chosen not to use debt recovery options but, given the financial burden on taxpayers, this has now become necessary.
"Queensland Health will begin engaging a private debt collector to manage significantly overdue invoices in the coming weeks."
It comes as— until the end of April, 2022.
Many of the measures are already in place and have been extended to September, but the draft laws also seek a tougher approach to quarantine costs by requiring advance payment and allowing a third party such as an employer to accept liability for a hotel quarantine bill.
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The measures are aimed at critical and skilled workers such as seasonal farm workers, as well as people who support service-related industries such as tourism and education.
The bill will insert a new power in the Public Health Act with regulations that will state which groups will need to pay their quarantine fees before they arrive in Queensland, and whether anyone in a cohort is eligible to apply for a fee waiver.
The cohorts could be widened down the track without requiring new legislation.
Full or partial refunds could be given if quarantine was prepaid for someone who did not arrive, or if they quarantine for a shorter time than anticipated (which would apply to COVID-19 patients being transferred to a hospital after testing positive).
In tabling the legislation, Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said there were additional demands with the state government resuming the return of seasonal workers to Queensland.
Queensland records zero new cases after infected woman attended venues
Queensland has recorded no new locally-acquired cases a day after a flight attended tested positive to coronavirus.Five overseas-acquired cases were recorded in hotel quarantine on Monday, taking the state's tally of current active cases to 32.
"The bill will improve the state's ability to recoup quarantine-related expenses and ensure that Queensland's quarantine system remains sustainable and responsive to changing public health and economic circumstances," Ms D'Ath said.
"Persons will still be able to apply for a fee waiver where, for example, they are a vulnerable person or are experiencing financial hardship."
Queensland Health said it recognised the pandemic had caused financial stress for many people, and was mindful of that when seeking payment for hotel quarantine stays.
It costs about $2,800 for a single adult to quarantine, $3,710 for two adults and $4,620 for two adults and two children.
Once an invoice is issued, travellers are given 30 days to pay.
Payment plans can be requested and travellers can also apply for quarantine fee waivers based on their circumstances.
Travellers who have begun a payment plan or have a fee waiver request pending will not be referred for debt collection.
The new bill is before a parliamentary committee, which is due to report back in early August.
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