The Queensland government’s call for a national network of outback quarantine camps has been backed by experts, but critics warn that it’s shifting the problem rather than solving it.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will ask national cabinet to consider outback quarantine camps for international travellers to protect the wider population from the highly contagious UK coronavirus strain.
Her proposal comes after Brisbane’s Grand Chancellor Hotel was shut down when six people linked to the quarantine facility tested positive for the UK COVID-19 strain.
Ms Palaszczuk says it’s clearly too risky to quarantine travellers in capital cities anymore and quarantining people in vacant outback mining camps is a “rational option”.
“It’s a matter for state and territories but I think with this new strain we have to put all options on the table and these are sensible, rational options,” the premier said.
Jane Halton, from the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, said the plan had advantages and disadvantages, which needed to be carefully weighed.
She said allowing people fresh air and to exercise were good, but proximity to a nearby hospital and transportation from international airports to quarantine were another consideration.
“We should have all options on the table, I think that is wise, but we do need to think about what it takes to deliver good quality, safe and effective quarantine and make sure that any option stacks up against those criteria,” she told ABC TV.
Former World Health Organisation epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman said there were already ample mining camps, former military bases and detention centres like Christmas Island, which could be used.
He said concerns about logistics and medical care at remote camps could be easily allayed if the federal government deployed the Australian Defence Force.
“Let’s face it they can set up field hospitals that can cover just about any emergency. So I think a lot of these questions about ‘Oh we have to have access to a trauma centre’ can all be handled without any problems at all,” Prof Esterman told SkyNews.
Queensland Opposition Leader David Crisafulli warned that setting up quarantine facilities in the outback was merely shifting a problem rather than dealing with problems with the system.
He said instead the investigation needs to find how the outbreak occurred in a Brisbane hotel so the system can be fixed.
“It doesn’t matter if people are being held in a hotel room in Brisbane or a mining camp in Moranbah, it’s the same problem,” Mr Crisafulli told AAP in a statement.
“The system must be watertight. Right now it isn’t working, and that worries me.
“Queenslanders deserve to know what went wrong and be assured this doesn’t happen again.
“That’s especially true for regional Queenslanders given this problem could now be coming to their backyard.”