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Victoria tells federal government to pay $200m for quarantine facility

written by Adam Thorn | April 29, 2021
An image released by the Victorian government of its proposed new quarantine facility in Melbourne's north.
An image released by the Victorian government of its proposed new quarantine facility in Melbourne’s north.

Victoria has revealed plans for its Howard Springs-style quarantine hub in Melbourne – but told the federal government it should pay $200 million to cover its full construction costs.

Acting Premier James Merlino said the 500-bed facility could potentially open by the end of the year and the state would pay $15 million for its design.

Victoria’s hotel quarantine program was suspended for a second time on 13 February after a breach at the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport triggered a snap five-day lockdown. The state then pledged to introduce a purpose-built building in a more remote location to prevent future leakages.

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Premier Merlino said on Thursday the proposed quarantine centre would be built on land adjacent to its pet quarantine facility in Mickleham, 30 kilometres north of Melbourne’s CBD, and would have the potential to be expanded to 3,000 beds.

The design would be ready by September, when a final decision would be made. If green-lit, it could potentially open by the end of the year.

“Our request is that they pay for the cost of the construction … the initial 500 beds is around $200 million,” Premier Merlino said.

“The cost of an expanded [facility] to the maximum of 3,000 beds is around $700 million.”

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He added that if the federal government refused to pay, the state could potentially go back to a previous plan submitted by Avalon Airport.

It follows a row between state and federal governments as to which is responsible for quarantine. During COVID, this has been handled by states but some argue this is constitutionally a federal responsibility.

Victoria’s announcement comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country’s current system, using commercial hotels, was “99.99 per cent effective”.

The state only restarted its quarantine program on 8 April after making changes to hotel ventilation systems thought to be responsible for a COVID outbreak in February.

The state’s acting Police Minister, Danny Pearson, said teams had “gone room by room, floor by floor” to make the necessary improvements to isolation facilities.

Minister Pearson also confirmed that quarantine employees can now only be based at one site and work one job.

Other changes to procedures include testing returnees on four separate occasions and reduced room capacity for family groups.

Tests will now be carried out on day zero, four, 12 and 14, and returnees will be encouraged to get tested again on days 17 and 21.

The program’s return comes despite Premier Dan Andrews arguing in late February that Australia needed to have a “cold, hard discussion” of how best to keep new variants of COVID out of the country.

“With this UK strain – and we haven’t even got on to South Africa yet, because it’s just as bad – should we be halving the total number of people coming home?” said Premier Andrews. “Or should it be a much smaller program that’s based on compassionate grounds?

NSW is currently taking the vast bulk of returned citizens, with Sydney quarantine hotels now accepting 3,000 entrants per week. The next highest is Queensland, taking 1,000.

The news comes after Australia’s arrival caps in February returned to their previously higher December 2020 levels, which were cut at the start of 2021 following a second COVID cluster in Sydney.

The January temporary cuts formed part of the biggest overhaul of the quarantine program since its inception, and also included 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.

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7 Comments

  • IAN

    says:

    $215 million for 500 beds ? That’s insane. That’s $430,000 per bed.

    Design should not cost anything, if you use demountable buildings which can be sold to mining company or whoever after use no longer needed.

    Very very dodgy numbers.

    • TD

      says:

      Very typical of any government contract irrespective of whether it’s state , council or federal. Multiple by four with all tenderers doing similar so it all goes ahead with one of them. Same as some car repairers with insurance claims or the new Sydney airport or the Covid app or the consent add etc. There’s always money to be made while others suffer waiting for help etc. Having said that demountable buildings are great as long as associated outdoor areas (for occupants) and prevailing winds can’t spread live virus particles to the next building or to the nearest town via airborne for the life (4hours?) of the virus particle. Maybe that requires all exhaust air be filtered as well.
      Maybe the $215M comes with staff and running costs for a year which would also be inflated.

    • Ben

      says:

      For a custom designed facility that is designed to have negative pressure and still maintain fire safety (which normally relies on positive pressure and thus our hotel issues)… that’s not bad.

      And $215 million for the place to get on with life… that’s a drop in the ocean.

      Donga’s aren’t going to cut it. And after they have been used for COVID they will have zero resale value. Nobody will touch them with a 50ft barge pole.

      The point here isn’t a temporary facility, it’s for a permanent one. COVID will be with us for years yet and the next virus is not far away.

  • CJ

    says:

    you can build a 3 bedroom 1 bathroom house for $100,000. Less if building a 100 at once on same site. These numbers are just crazy. Who made them up ?

  • Nicholas

    says:

    You have to love Victoria, saw Merlino on the TV on this last night.

    Should have been sub titled, Victoria announces it’s too incompetent to run quarantine, suggests the Commonwealth does it and pays also….

  • Nice try ALP Victoria! Why did they reject the Avalon option in the first instance???

  • Noel

    says:

    It begs the question that do they have the appropriately trained Medical Staff to place into this facility. Queensland has already acknowledged that the are totally unprepared, with no available staff.

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