Flight school accommodation at Parafield Airport in Adelaide could be repurposed into a quarantine hub for international university students, under a plan recently approved by the SA chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier.
In a bid to revive the $2 billion international education economy, Professor Spurrier announced that the state had approved proposed plans to house up to 160 overseas students at the on-site accommodation of major Parafield-based flight school Flight Training Adelaide.
According to The Advertiser, the site was explored by both SA Police and SA Health officials, and dubbed to be the most appropriate of the options that were viewed, for a two-week quarantine centre for incoming international students.
The students will reportedly remain isolated in groups of four at the facility, which contains several separated bungalows, and will be guarded throughout their quarantine period by SA police.
According to the plan, now lodged with the Department for Trade and Investment, these international arrivals will not form part of the current 530-person weekly flight cap for arrivals into South Australia.
As such, South Australia’s ‘medi-hotel’ hotel quarantine system would remain in place for Australians returning home from overseas, and the proposed facility would cater exclusively to international students.
Additionally, authorities suggested that the current “risk profile” of a country will be a “key consideration” of which overseas students will be allowed to enter the country.
Notably, the plan will still require endorsement from the federal government to proceed.
However, the expected cost per student under the planned quarantine hub is nearly three-times the cost of standard hotel quarantine in an SA medi-hotel, which is likely to be a point of contention for the government.
It is unclear if overseas flight training students are included under the proposal, or if it only pertains to university attendees.
Professor Spurrier wrote to SA Premier Steven Marshall over the weekend to say her recently-approved plans were “fully compliant with SA Health protocols” and with requirements of the Commonwealth.
“I provide assurance that the plan can be successfully delivered, enabling the state to rebuild this critical sector,” she wrote.
Premier Marshall confirmed on Saturday the plans for the Parafield site had been lodged with the federal government.
He said it would be a significant economic boost but health and safety “is our number one priority”.
“This plan to get international students back ensures that priority remains paramount, while supporting our international education sector and the thousands of jobs it underpins as SA’s largest services export,” he said.
“There is still more work to be done with the commonwealth to bring the plan to fruition,” the SA Premier concluded.
A similar plan to construct a purpose-built quarantine facility for overseas arrivals at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport has been held up at the federal level, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeatedly snubbing the idea.
Last year, South Australia was pinned to be the test-bed for the return of international students, as announced by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
Under that federally-endorsed plan, up to 300 students from China, Hong Kong and Japan were expected to travel from Singapore into Adelaide in September 2020, before undertaking the standard 14-day hotel quarantine.
This plan was swiftly scrapped as the government faced significant backlash over the rate at which Australians stranded overseas were repatriated due to international arrival caps, and the ban on non-residents entering into the country.