Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews appeared to confirm on Tuesday that either Avalon or Melbourne airports would host a new Howard Springs-style quarantine facility.
“We are going to get on and build a facility,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how big it is and the more precise details of where but Avalon and Melbourne airports are standout candidates and I’m very grateful to them for the partnership and work they’ve already done with us.”
It comes just a day after Avalon Airport pitched a plan for it to transform into a insolation facility for return travellers that would mimic the operation at Howard Springs, featuring outdoor cabins and within walking distance from the terminal.
On Monday, Premier Andrews said only that the idea had “some real strengths” but the following day appeared to all but confirm the idea will take place.
“We are actively pursuing and examining the construction of a purpose-built quarantine centre, a centre that would serve to replace in at least significant measure – maybe not entirely but in significant part – the work of inner city hotels,” Premier Andrews told a press conference.
“This will be based in large part on the Howard Springs model. People would be in the same location but not sharing the same spaces, so they’re not under the same roofline.
“It would be a cabin-style, village-style environment, where there would be fresh air, where there would be not zero risk but lower risk.
“That work is ongoing and a delegation of senior officials will to the Northern Territory as soon as is practicable to see first-hand how the Howard Springs facility is set up.
“The two obvious candidates – Avalon Airport, you’ve got space and you’ve got an international terminal, and of course Melbourne Airport as well.
“We will pursue both of those, do that work, it’s well and truly under way and we will report progress as that happened but I think we do have to have a proper conversation at a national cabinet level about what we can do, what further can we do to reduce the risk particularly in light of this UK strain and all that we know about that so when we have more to say about that work, then obviously, we’ll make announcements but that’s our intention.”
Avalon chief executive Justin Giddings’ initial idea would allow repatriated Australians to cook their own meals, clean their own cabins and spend time outside.
The proximity of the airport means no bus transfer would be required and the nearest private home is more than 10 kilometres away.
On Monday, Australia’s arrival caps returned to their previously higher December 2020 levels, which were cut at the start of 2021 following a second COVID cluster in Sydney.
From 15 February, NSW will return to its weekly cap of 3,010 and Queensland to 1,000.
In January, the temporary cuts formed part of the biggest overhaul of the quarantine program since its inception, and also include a provision for passengers to wear masks on all domestic and international flights; for hotel staff to be tested daily and for ex-pats to require a negative result before boarding a repatriation flight.
Arrival caps were introduced in July and sat at 4,000, before increasing to 6,500 at the end of 2020 and then decreasing to just over 4,000 in January 2021.
The idea is one of several innovative ideas Avalon has implemented during the pandemic, which have included ‘touchless’ check-in kiosks where the on-screen cursor is controlled by head movements and a new security system that lets passengers keep their laptops in their bags.
In May 2020, the ambitious airport also pitched the idea Avalon could be one of just a handful to accept flights from New Zealand as flying slowly begins to resume.