The Garran community won’t be getting their oval back any time soon, with no changes planned for the COVID Surge Centre, despite the ACT being virtually free of the virus for many months.
Canberra Health Services Deputy CEO Dave Peffer said the ACT’s $23 million insurance policy would only be removed once the COVID-19 public health threat had passed.
”The Surge Centre is a key part of the ACT’s COVID-19 response plan, helping to boost our capacity and enhance our ability to respond to the pandemic,” he said.
The 50-bed facility, designed to prevent the ACT health system being overwhelmed, has lain virtually unused since it sprang up on Garran Oval adjacent the Canberra Hospital in May last year, apart from being part of the ACT’s testing network.
The ACT Government contracted local health services company Aspen Medical to deliver and run the facility, which was designed in partnership with the World Health Organisation.
Mr Peffer said the government shared the cost of the build and operation of the Surge Centre 50/50 with the Commonwealth, and current operating costs were minimal, consisting of minor utility and cleaning services.
It’s the bespoke medical facility the government hopes to never use but it has also been labelled a white elephant by some commentators.
Late last year, it may have been thought that the facility could be dispensed with as COVID-19 appeared to be under control not just in the ACT but elsewhere in the country as well.
But the outbreaks in NSW and then Victoria have again changed the COVID-19 landscape, posing new threats to public health and the economy, although Mr Peffer said there had been no plans to reassess the centre’s future and the new situation had not played a role in that view.
The emergence of the more contagious UK variant of the virus also presents a potential new phase of the pandemic if it manages to gain a foothold in Australia, so it seems the ACT Government has little option but to keep the Surge Centre open and available for any eventuality.
As well as being a testing centre, the facility is also being used for fit-testing masks for CHS staff.
”Future uses for the facility will be a decision of government,” Mr Peffer said. ”It could potentially be used for training or simulation exercises to ensure that staff are well prepared in the event of a surge in infection.”
He said no decision has been made on whether the Surge Centre would be used in the roll-out of a vaccine, but its cutting-edge design means it could be suitable to play such a role.
While the government would continue to keep the Garran community posted, the current arrangement remained open-ended.
”The ACT Government has always assured the Garran community that the COVID-19 Surge Centre is a temporary facility, which will only be in place while the public health threat exists,” Mr Peffer said.
”It is not possible at this time to predict how long this will be. Once the centre is dismantled, Garran Oval will be remediated.”
Mr Peffer said a decision on the future of the facility, which can be dismantled and stored or moved in containers, would be made once the Public Health Emergency had passed.