Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed the government is considering Victoria’s proposal for a purpose-built quarantine hub “in good faith”.
It comes despite PM Morrison playing down the plans last month, arguing the current system, using commercial hotels, was “99.99 per cent effective”.
Last month, acting state Premier James Merlino unveiled plans for a 500-bed facility but told the federal government it should pay $200 million to cover its full construction costs.
“We’ve taken those proposals in good faith and we’ll work in good faith with the Victorian government,” PM Morrison said on Wednesday.
“These are all things that you need to prepare for. But I want to be very clear with Australians – I will act in Australia’s economic and safety interests.
“That’s what I always do. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve protected lives and we’ve protected livelihoods. And we’re going to keep doing this.”
The proposed quarantine centre in Victoria 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 state has pledged to cover the $15 million for its design, which would be ready by September when a final decision would be made on its construction.
Victoria 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 came 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?
While the state quarantine caps fluctuate, NSW is currently taking the vast bulk of returned citizens, with Sydney quarantine hotels now accepting around 3,000 entrants per week.