A purpose-built quarantine facility will be constructed in Victoria to house the highest-risk arrivals after the state government confirmed it had struck an agreement with the Commonwealth.
The federal government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Victorian government, agreeing to fund a $200 million construction of the facility, which will be located at either Mickleham or Avalon.
Victoria will cover the cost of operating the facility.
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino said the discussions had been “very positive all the way through”, describing the project as a “priority for both governments”.
“I’m very pleased that we have reached this agreement today and I think most Victorians (and) Australians will be very pleased that we have reached this outcome,” he said on Friday.
Mr Merlino said although the hotel quarantine system had proved effective, 21 breaches showed it was “not a zero risk environment” and “never will be”.
“Our strong argument has been we must have a Howard Springs-like alternative, a purpose-built quarantine facility for our highest risk individuals. That’s exactly what we will deliver,” he said.
Mr Merlino was keen for the facility to be built and operational “as soon as possible” and would work with the commonwealth to expedite construction.
He stressed Mickleham was his preference but said Avalon would “work equally well”.
The new location will operate in addition to the commonwealth-run Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, which the federal government confirmed would be expanded in the May budget.
Labor frontbencher Richard Marles said the Victorian outbreak would have been avoided had the federal government constructed additional facilities earlier.
“Every person who does their quarantine in a fit-for-purpose facility makes our country safer,” he said.
National Covid-19 Co-ordination Commission Advisory Board commissioner Jane Halton called for additional purpose-built facilities in her October review.
Ms Halton on Wednesday welcomed the Howard Springs expansion but said she was “perplexed” the decision had taken so long.
“Some of the breaches we have seen recently are a direct reflection of an absence of best practice in some of these systems,” she told ABC Radio on Wednesday.
Epidemiologist Nancy Baxter told Today the facility would allow the highest-risk travellers to be quarantined in a purpose-built facility, mitigating the threat of transmission in hotels.
“They mainly seem to be coming from people that go into hotel quarantine. They don’t have the virus, and they’re catching it from someone else in hotel quarantine … They don’t become positive until they’re actually at home,” she said on Friday.
“This is for people perhaps from countries with new variants or where the epidemic is really widespread.”
Ms Baxter played down the prospect of chemists administering the vaccine, saying “the variant to vaccination is supply”.
“We don’t have enough supply … the GPs are asking for more,” she said.
“Expanding to more providers doesn’t make sense right now.”