Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has all but confirmed the federal government will back Victoria’s plans to build a Howard Springs-style quarantine hub.
He said on Thursday the government was “favourably disposed” to the idea and that a final decision was “imminent”. Treasurer Frydenberg also appeared to reveal it will be built in Avalon and not the last muted location of Mickleham in Melbourne.
In April, Victoria has revealed plans for the 500-bed facility but said the federal government should pay $200 million to cover its full construction costs, while the state would pay $15 million for its design.
Treasurer Frydenberg said, “This designated facility that Victoria has proposed for quarantine is over and above the existing hotel quarantine facility.
“Avalon does have some very positive characteristics to it, obviously being near an airport and that’s relevant in this case.”
It comes after Victoria’s acting Premier James Merlino said he had a brief discussion with Prime Minister Scott Morrison about alternative quarantine arrangements on Wednesday night. He said both the Avalon and Mickleham proposals would work well.
“Hotels are built for tourists. We need a purpose-built facility for our highest risk travellers,” Premier Merlino said on Thursday. “This is all about making our state and our nation safer.”
The latest plans for the facility would see it have the potential to open by the end of the year and could be expanded to 3,000 beds.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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