ACT Health had just 10 days to bring accommodation facilities at the Australian National University (ANU) up to scratch for quarantine purposes for 30 people from Australia’s G7 delegation.
The returned travellers commenced quarantine on Friday (18 June) at Davey Lodge while a further 10 people – including the Prime Minister – will quarantine at home.
The decision was ticked off by Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman after being informed by the Commonwealth that a deal had been reached directly with the ANU. Further measures needed to be put in place to make the facility fit for purpose.
ACT Health had knocked back a proposal by the university to quarantine returning international students on campus just months ago, saying the accommodation was not fit for purpose.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said ACT Health worked with the university to sign off on the new measures before returning officials were allowed to quarantine.
“The size of the Prime Minister’s delegation and the nature of that delegation, and the fact that they were going to need quarantine coming back into the ACT, has been on our agenda for some time,” he said.
“It is a Commonwealth responsibility, principally, around being able to manage their own staff, but they need to work with us on those matters.
“They had encountered some of the same issues [as the ACT Goverment], that there are limited quarantine facilities in the ACT.”
The ACT ended its arrangement with the Pacific Suites Hotel as a dedicated quarantine facility after announcing it would not be receiving any more repatriation flights about two months ago.
The Commonwealth initially approached the ACT Government for quarantine suggestions and informed them once they had made the deal with the ANU.
The original discussions covered previous hotel arrangements and concerns relating to returned travellers quarantining across multiple locations.
Region Media understands that it was the ACT Government’s preference to have the delegation quarantine at the port of arrival as there are no dedicated quarantine facilities in Canberra.
Mr Barr has been a strong proponent of purpose-built quarantine facilities and has repeatedly called on the Commonwealth to establish more centres like Howard Springs to avoid the virus leaking from hotel quarantine.
The virus has so far escaped from hotel quarantine on more than 20 occasions across Australia.
Mr Barr said it would be up to the Commonwealth to consider a purpose-built facility in the ACT for future delegations.
He has previously said the ACT would be the bottom of the list of Australian jurisdictions where purpose-built facilities were needed but that Commonwealth land near Canberra Airport could be used for such a facility.
“The Pacific Suites was not available. They are a hotel. They want to be in the hotel business. They are not a purpose-built quarantine facility,” Mr Barr said.
“It is entirely understandable that they cannot just sit there and wait for the occasional two weeks in a year where their facilities might be needed for quarantine.
“We do not have a purpose-built quarantine facility here. We are never going to have one at a massive scale … but maybe they do need a purpose-built quarantine facility to manage the movement of Commonwealth officials at a scale of about 30.”
It remains unclear what the on-campus quarantine facilities mean for the university’s plan to return international students. The rooms at Davey Lodge do not have quarantine facilities like balconies and kitchens that ACT Health requires.
However, the lodge complies with national quarantine requirements, with extra necessities in the ACT being linked to its human rights jurisdiction moniker.
Mr Barr said that the quarantine period at Davey Lodge would only act as a pilot for international students as bringing back students in their hundreds would negate the quarantine measures that have been put in place.
“We are not going to solve the international student issue 30 at a time,” he said.
The NSW Government recently announced it was pursuing a pilot program for students to quarantine at a student accommodation hub and pay their own way.
The NSW Government said the first of these sites had been chosen and contract negotiations were well advanced.
The pilot program would allow 250 international students to arrive in Sydney each fortnight.
Mr Barr welcomed the proposal when it was announced last week, saying he was hopeful that the pilot would pave the way for the return of international students.
He said the ACT had numerous proposals knocked back by the Federal Government in the last year while another remains on the Prime Minister’s desk.