PM unmoved by push for Qld quarantine facility

Flights from India to Australia will be temporarily halted amid increasing concerns around the South Asian nation's escalating coronavirus catastrophe.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, following a meeting of the national security wing of cabinet, also announced Australia would send an emergency support package of medical supplies to India.

The catastrophe unfolding in India, a nation of nearly 1.4 billion people, has led to severe shortages of oxygen, thousands of deaths a day, mass cremations, and an outpouring of international assistance.

In the 24 hours to Tuesday, India recorded 323,000 new infections and 2771 deaths.

The federal government's initial support package to India will include 1 million surgical masks, 500, non-invasive ventilators, 100,000 goggles, 100,000 pair of gloves and 20,000 face shields.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne at a press conference in Sydney on Tuesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne at a press conference in Sydney on Tuesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi

 

All passenger flights from India to Australia, including eight repatriation flights scheduled to land in Darwin, will be halted until at least May 15.

Mr Morrison said the transit loophole, via Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, had also been shut by those countries themselves suspending travel from India.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne confirmed there were more than 9000 Australian citizens still stranded in India, 650 of those considered vulnerable - and the number is expected to rise.

She said once circumstances allow, and the flight ban is lifted, it's possible the government will increase the frequency of planes from India so more stranded Australians can return.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who had last week asked for the flight pause, said the move to suspend flights would be "difficult for families" but was the "right decision at this time".

 

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaking in Parliament. Pics Tara Croser.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaking in Parliament. Pics Tara Croser.

 

Mr Morrison said the pause was needed so give the hotel quarantine system some "breathing space" as the number of COVID-19 cases, mainly from Australians returning via India, had escalated.

The number of infected people in Australia's hotel quarantine system was 243 in the week starting April 16, a significant jump from the 90 cases the week before.

The Courier-Mail revealed this week that since the start of the year to April 25, 23 cases of coronavirus in Queensland's quarantine system were international arrivals who had travelled from, or transited through, India.

Toowoomba quarantine facility idea slapped down

Mr Morrison also held firm on the nation's hotel quarantine system, resisting criticism from Ms Palaszczuk and Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan for the Commonwealth to establish more federal-run quarantine capacity.

"If I told you a year ago … when the national cabinet agreed unanimously to put in place a system of hotel quarantine (and) that that would achieve a 99.99 per cent success rate, you wouldn't believe me," he said.

Australian Border Force data shows 140,355 people have been put into international quarantine between October 27, 2020 and April 22 this year.

In that time, coronavirus has leaked into the community a total of 13 times across the country - three of those occasions in Queensland - meaning the national incursion rate is 0.009 per cent.

Leaks from hotel quarantine led to the recent lockdown in Perth and the one in Queensland in January.

 

Exterior of Hotel Grand Chancellor Brisbane, Spring Hill, where COVID-19 once leaked out from quarantine. Picture: Richard Walker
Exterior of Hotel Grand Chancellor Brisbane, Spring Hill, where COVID-19 once leaked out from quarantine. Picture: Richard Walker

 

Ms Palaszczuk again pushed for the Commonwealth to support the 1000-bed quarantine facility proposal near Toowoomba.

"I think it's absolutely vital that we set up these quarantine facilities," she said.

"It minimises the risk. And we've got to stop talking about it and we've got to do it. We've got to have some action."

The federal government has declined to accept or refuse the proposal outright, with Health Minister Greg Hunt on Monday questioning the "appropriateness" of the idea.

Mr Morrison also skirted the question, instead pointing to Victoria's inquiry into hotel quarantine and the federal government's own review.

He said quarantine facilities needed to be "close to major airports" and near "tertiary hospitals" - which includes for example Townsville University Hospital and the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

"So that is a key requirement. There was also a need to have these facilities near appropriate workforces, both health workforces and other workforces (including Defence and police)," Mr Morrison said.

 

Garth Hamilton.
Garth Hamilton.

 

Groom MP Garth Hamilton, who has been a fierce opponent of the facility, said the Mr Morrison had listened to the concerns of the community.

"I'm glad to see the PM has put this to bed," he said.

"For three months I've been demanding details from the Premier and she's refused to engage with me and my community.

"My priority is keeping my region safe."

WA Premier McGowan called on the Commonwealth to stand-up its "bare bases" like RAAF Base Curtin and Learmonth in regional WA that aren't heavily used during peacetime.

Queensland also has a "bare base", in RAAF Base Scherger in Weipa.

RAAF Base Scherger and Curtin have disused immigration detention facilities.

Originally published as PM unmoved by push for Qld quarantine facility



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