How controversial quarantine camps would work


A drastic proposal to house international arrivals in Queensland "mining camps" has sparked concerns there could be chances for COVID-19 to escape into the community.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will take her plan to national cabinet next week, with authorities to also discuss it with the federal government in coming days.

But the proposal is understood to have stumped the Morrison Government because Queensland does not need Commonwealth approval for changes to its quarantine system as long as it meets guidelines established last year.

Ms Palaszczuk's plan could only operate through existing international ports - meaning arrivals would need to land somewhere with capacity to process international passengers before they were shuttled to a regional community.

Former federal Health Department boss Jane Halton, who led the Morrison Government's review into hotel quarantine, said there had been "quite worrying" changes to the virus that highlighted that quarantine systems would have to be adaptable.

"We don't yet know what's happened in Queensland so whilst I think we should have all options on the table I think that is wise but we do need to think about what it takes to deliver a good quality safe and effective quarantine and make sure that any option stacks up against that criteria," she told the ABC.

Homeground Villages in Calliope has been flagged as one possibility for quarantine accommodation.
Homeground Villages in Calliope has been flagged as one possibility for quarantine accommodation.

She said any regional facility would have to be close to a hospital in case a returnee needed emergency care, was able to attract a skilled workforce and not create more risk of transmission as people were moved from an international airport to remote location.

Ms Palaszczuk said the government was going to look at all options, with one of those being mining camps.

"Some of these mining camps are four star, they are of a very good quality high standard," she said.

The Premier said most of the facilities the government was looking at had balconies.

"I think with this new strain, we have to put all options on the table, and these are sensible, rational options," she said.

"Howard Springs works very well in the Northern Territory and there's no reason why we couldn't do something similar here in Queensland or if not around the country.

"I think this is a rational option and if we are dealing with a strain which is up to 70 per cent more infectious, I think we need to be really serious about it."

It's understood feedback received by the resources industry hasn't all been positive.

There are several FIFO villages across the state including in Mt Isa, Chinchilla and Calliope near Gladstone.

It's understood Homeground Villages in Calliope had been touted as a potential location.

It comes as Queensland recorded four new cases yesterday, with none connected to the Hotel Grand Chancellor.

Authorities were still trying to get in touch with a quarter of former guests who stayed at the hotel, but have ruled out another lockdown because they're confident they will find them.

The Minerals Council of Australia said the only sites that could be considered would be "non-operational sites such as those under care and maintenance".

Federal health officials are believed to be planning for scenarios in which the mutant strains become the common variant, possibly as soon as sometime in February.

The CFMEU's Shane Brunker said the union was seeking a briefing from the government. 

Queensland Hotels Association chief executive Bernie Hogan said for hotels with quarantine contracts, shifting the arrangements would be of a financial concern.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive officer Ian Macfarlane said the body would work closely with the government to provide input into any decisions that impacted on workforces and communities.

Western Downs Regional Council Mayor Paul McVeigh said one of the challenges was the potential of bringing COVID-19 to the region. 

"I'd have to have a serious look at it, I think our community would be challenged to agree to it," he said. 

But he said it was an idea that should be looked at. 

Wagner's Group John Wagner, behind the Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba, said there would be merit in using the facility.

"Because there's mining camps close by to Wellcamp, and given that we can take international arrivals, I think there would be a lot of merit in flying into Wellcamp, put the people on coaches and within an hour … we could house thousands," he said.

Originally published as How controversial quarantine camps would work