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(AUSTRALIA) JUST IN: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says Queensland is building its own 1,000-bed quarantine facility next to Wellcamp Airport, just outside Toowoomba #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Aug.28: Deputy Premier Steve Miles told ABC Radio Brisbane the Queensland government hoped international flights would be allowed to land at Wellcamp Airport, to minimise the risk of busing passengers from Brisbane Airport.

#AceDailyNews says the project was , but became a political football as the Queensland and federal governments disagreed over the viability of the plan so now they will be going it alone on the project despite the federal government approving an army barracks at Pinkenba, near Brisbane Airport, for a joint-run 1,000 bed quarantine facility to prevent busing passengers from Brisbane according to ABC Radio


It’s hoped overseas flights will eventually land at Wellcamp Airport for quarantine.(David Chen)

Who will go to the Toowoomba site?

Any travellers from overseas or interstate hotspots while domestic restrictions apply.

“We don’t want to bus people out there, we want planes to land at Wellcamp Airport,” he said.

“Provided the Commonwealth doesn’t try and stand in our way that’s exactly what we’ll do, we’ll land them straight at that airport.”

Melbourne-based epidemiologist Driss Ait Ouakrim has been part of a team tracking all of Australia’s hotel quarantine outbreaks.

He says purpose-built facilities are needed to prevent lockdowns like those happening in Melbourne and Sydney.

“Many experts have been calling for purpose-built facilities to quarantine people coming from overseas,” he said.

“Hotels are not built for people potentially infected with a very dangerous and highly transmissible virus.”

Dr Ait Ouakrim says fully vaccinated travellers pose less risk of infection and transmission, so can therefore be still sent to hotels.

He says high-risk travellers, such as those who are not vaccinated or who have arrived from a country where the virus is out of control, need to be sent to safer, purpose-built facilities.

Does the plan require federal cooperation?

No, but it’s hoped that will come later.

The federal government isn’t backing the project, saying it doesn’t meet national requirements because it’s not near a tertiary hospital and an international airport.

But the Queensland government remains hopeful that view will change and flights will eventually be allowed to land directly at the adjacent Wellcamp Airport.

“Build it and they will come,” Ms Palaszczuk said repeatedly yesterday.

The 747 lands at Wellcamp in front of a large crowd
The Wellcamp Airport runway was built to take international flights.(Supplied: Paul Smith)

Currently, five international flights land each week at Wellcamp Airport, but only carrying freight. 

Until passenger flights start touching down, people will be bussed to the facility from Brisbane and elsewhere.

“We currently bus arriving travellers from Brisbane to hotel quarantine accommodation on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, and so that would remain an option to get people here safely,” Mr Miles said.

Who is building the Toowoomba facility?

The quarantine camp is being built by the wealthy Wagner construction family on land they own next to Wellcamp Airport, which they built and own.

The accommodation modules will be manufactured in Queensland.

The hub will provide 500 beds by the end of the year and expand to 1,000 beds in the first quarter of 2022.

Queensland’s current hotel quarantine capacity is about 5,000 beds.

The state government has signed a one-year lease on the Toowoomba site, with options to extend for two to three years.

How much will it cost?

We don’t know. The state government is refusing to say, citing commercial in confidence arrangements.

The state government had been holding out, hoping that the federal government would support the project, but is now going it alone.

John Wagner at the Brisbane West Wellcamp airport construction site.
John Wagner has promised to have 500 beds ready by the end of the year.(ABC News: Cassie Hough)

The project has not gone to tender and is a private proposal using public funds, but just how much the state is paying may not be known unless the costs are revealed in state budget papers or parliamentary estimates hearings.

But Deputy Premier Steven Miles has hinted that — even if it is a lot of money — there is value in stopping the virus escaping from quarantine.

“When you consider that the last lockdown alone cost more than a billion dollars in economic impact and compensation, you can see just what fantastic value it will be if we can avoid just one lockdown,” Mr Miles said.

What will it look like?

John Wagner promises the facility will be the best of its type in Australia, if not the world.

Final designs are still being developed, but we do know it will be  — a former workers’ village.

Specialist health teams in protective gear walk through the Howard Springs quarantine facility.
The design of the facility will be based on the quarantine hub at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory.(AAP: Glenn Campbell)

“There will be a mix of single, double and family accommodation in cabin-style with balconies and, importantly, no hallways adjoining rooms,” Mr Miles said.

It’s hoped this will reduce the chance of infected travellers passing on the virus to others.

University of Queensland virologist Kirsty Short says this has been an ongoing problem with hotel quarantine.

“By reducing exposure from room to room by [using] separate cabins that protects the individuals within the facility,” Dr Short said.

The federal government has reached an agreement with the state government to turn a former army barracks at Pinkenba near Brisbane Airport into another 1,000-bed quarantine hub.

But Ms Palaszczuk says locating quarantine facilities away from major centres will lower the chance of infections getting into the community.

“We need to make sure that we have good quarantine — regional facilities — away from our densely populated cities that can spread the virus rapidly,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Will it put an end to hotel quarantine?

Not if the number of people in quarantine stays at current levels.

There are about 5,000 people in Queensland hotel quarantine in cities from Cairns to the Gold Coast.

The Wellcamp facility and the Pinkenba facility could reduce that by up to 2,000 when they are both complete and running at full capacity.

It is likely, therefore, that some hotel capacity will still be required.

Will we still need quarantine when 80 per cent of us are vaccinated?

Travellers arriving from overseas will need to quarantine for the foreseeable future.

The plan in Australia is to open up to domestic travel once vaccination levels are high enough — or between 70 and 80 per cent.

But Dr Short says it will still be unsafe to open up to international travellers at that point.

She argues reducing our reliance on hotel and other quarantine facilities will take a long time.

A sign outside Wellcamp Airport
It’s hoped overseas flights will eventually land at Wellcamp Airport for quarantine.(David Chen)

“I think certainly we will need hotel quarantine for the immediate future,” Dr Short said.

“If everything goes well, then hopefully we will be less dependent on these quarantine facilities, but this is going to be a phased approach.

“It’s not going to come with a bang, it’s going to come in in dribs and drabs.

“So we’ll slowly see a transition from probably hotel quarantine to these quarantine facilities … and then transition to sort of home quarantine, and then hopefully transition away from that.”

#AceHealthDesk report ……Published: Aug.27: 2021:

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