Queensland Premier Annastacia Palasczuk’s plan for a new 1,000-bed regional quarantine facility has come under fire a day after the announcement, as the state eases more Covid restrictions from 4pm today.
The premier yesterday announced the new facility would be built in partnership with wealthy Queensland businessman John Wagner near Wellcamp Airport at Toowoomba.
Ms Palaszczuk said today the facility would be cheaper to build than proposed Victorian and WA facilities, and cheaper than the planned Federal quarantine facility at Damascus Barracks, Pinkenba in Brisbane.
She said international flights were already accepted at Wellcamp, answering criticism that commercial airlines have not yet committed to landing at the airport adjacent to the planned facility.
‘We’re getting on with it, we’re building it,’ she said.
‘I don’t personally have to approach them [airlines],’ she said. ‘Charter flights are allowed to land into any international airport and like I said yesterday, if you build it they will come.’
She defended her decision not to inform Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the decision to build the facility.
‘He doesn’t tell me a lot of things he’s doing either,’ she said.
The Wellcamp Airport west of Toowoomba, owned by the Wagner family, would be adjacent to the new quarantine facility
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palasczuk’s plan for a dedicated quarantine facility near Toowoomba has raised questions about whether it will pose an infection risk
Covid restrictions in Queensland are due to ease from 4pm today. Masks will still be required where social distancing is not possible, particularly indoors
The project will be open to travellers arriving in Queensland later this year, initially with 500 beds, but there are questions about the state’s government’s haste in proceeding with the facility.
A proposal for the facility had earlier been rejected by the federal government in June because it did not meet Commonwealth guidelines for regional quarantine, including its proximity to a hospital and because the land was privately owned.
Meanwhile, some Covid restrictions in Queensland are due to ease from 4pm today.
People will be allowed to have 100 others in their homes and there will be no limit on people gathering in public spaces.
Social distancing in cafes, restaurants, pubs, galleries, indoor play areas, and places of worship will also relax.
Stadiums will be able to return to 100 percent capacity.
COVID RESTRICTIONS EASE IN QUEENSLAND
From 4pm today:
you will be able to have 100 people inside your home, including residents, and there will be no limit on people gathering in public spaces (both up from 30).
▪️ Social distancing rules for cafes, restaurants, pubs, galleries, indoor play areas, and places of worship — all indoor premises — will relax.
▪️ Restrictions will change from one person per 4 square metres to one person per 2 square metres, or 100 per cent allocated seated capacity, whichever is greater.
▪️ The one person per 2-square-metre-rule will also apply to short-term accommodation, however the density requirements do not apply in sleeping areas.
▪️ Stadiums’ capacity will increase from 75 per cent to 100 per cent, but patrons must wear a mask at all times and must be seated when eating or drinking.
▪️ The cap on 100 people at funerals and weddings is increasing.
▪️ From this afternoon, you’ll be allowed one person per 2 square metres or 200 people or 100 per cent allocated seated and ticketed capacity, whichever is greater.
▪️ All wedding guests will be able to hit the dance floor, indoors and outdoors, subject to the one person per 2-square-metre rule.
▪️ Community sport will return to normal, with the social distancing rules for spectators easing.
The state recorded zero new community cases on Friday, and one further case in hotel quarantine. It’s not 21 days since Queensland had an active Covid case in the community.
Masks will continue to be required indoors when social distancing is not possible.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said Queensland had been approached by the deputy premier of NSW, John Barilaro, to discuss possible changes to border restrictions to ease the pressure on cross-border communities such as Tweed Heads-Coolangatta.
The move is a change of heart by NSW, which had previously rejected suggestions from Queensland that the effective border be moved further south.
Stadiums such as Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane would be able to return to 100 percent capacity from 4pm today
Prime Minster Morrison said yesterday that Ms Palaszczuk’s government had been ‘at liberty’ to build the new quarantine facility for months.
‘We have made a very clear that that facility did not meet the national guidelines, and that is why we are going forward together at Pinkenba.
‘They have made that decision and they could have done that months ago if that’s what they wished to do. Good for them. I wish them every success.’
Ms Palaszczuk said that fears Toowoomba Hospital would be overwhelmed by Covid patients once the facility was built were baseless because patients would be airlifted to Covid-equipped hospitals in Brisbane.
There are also concerns about transporting passengers to the facility from Brisbane, with public servants considering the process a Covid-19 infection risk, reported The Courier Mail.
‘We need regional quarantine facilities, it’s a no brainer,’ Ms Palaszczuk said.
‘We don’t need people in hotels, we need them in regional facilities.’
The facility is expected to be finished by the end of this year, expanding to 1,000 beds by the first quarter of next year.
Ms Palaszczuk said she hoped the facility would end the need for hotel quarantine in the Brisbane CBD.
She said the Queensland government had pushed for the facility at Wellcamp since January. ‘It could have been built by now,’ she said.
For the next fortnight people entering Queensland will not be permitted to enter on a right of entry pass and would need to reapply for a border pass (pictured – traveller wearing a mask on arrival into Brisbane)
She said that if Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t know about the announcement, ‘he does now’.
‘If we want to open our country up and we want to open our states up, regional quarantine is part of the answer,’ Ms Palaszczuk said.
‘This is going to be better than Howard Springs,’ she said, referring to the quarantine facility south of Darwin.
Details about the cost of the project, which would be run by the Wagners, would remain commercial in confidence. Around 400-450 jobs would be generated by construction of the facility, which had already started.
The facility at Toowoomba would be in addition to the one being constructed by the federal government at the Damascus Barracks at Pinkenba, in Brisbane’s inner east.
She defended the project against suggestions it would eventually become a white elephant.
‘If you build it, they will come,’ she said.
‘There’s a whole range of reasons people still have to travel.’
Australian Defence Force personnel (left) join Queensland Police to stop cars in Griffith street Coolangatta at the Queensland-NSW border
On Wednesday Queensland introduced a two-week halt on people entering hotel quarantine for 14 days with barely two hours notice, catching out many individuals and families who were in the process of relocating.
The move followed Ms Palaszczuk’s claim that interstate and international arrivals meant the state’s hotel quarantine system was full and Queensland was ‘being loved to death’.
‘If this [facility] had been built when we first asked the Federal government, we potentially wouldn’t have had to make the decision yesterday to delay hotel quarantine for two weeks,’ Heath Minister Yvette D’Ath said.
Health Minister Yvette D’ath said people who had to reapply for a border pass as a result of yesterday’s decision could ask for an exemption based on ‘exceptional circumstances’
Exemptions also exist for people accessing medical treatment or other special circumstances including bereavement.
She said yesterday the decision was implemented quickly to prevent a rush of people to the airport to get on flights.
‘What we’d have was an even greater problem because we’d have even greater surges than what we have seen over the last couple of weeks.’
There were currently 5,114 people in 22 quarantine hotels – 3,257 from interstate and 1,857 from overseas – the largest number since the hotel quarantine system was put in place in the state.
The new rules require individuals to book a room in a quarantine facility before they travel to Queensland.
They must also re-apply for a border pass, including returning Queensland residents.