NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has rejected the growing suggestion hotel quarantine programs should be scrapped amid a surge in virus leaks from facilities as a new highly-infectious strain continues to infiltrate Australian shores.
On Wednesday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk shut down one of her state’s quarantine facilities after six people there contracted the new UK strain of Covid.
And while she didn’t provide clarification on what she was seeking from discussions, Ms Palaszczuk said she would be seeking urgent exchanges with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other state leaders for further action to the programs.
“I think we need to immediately look at the way in which we are handling people coming into the country, international arrivals, and also, too, looking at the quarantine hotels that they are going into,” she told reporters.
"What we are dealing with here is something that we've never had to deal with before... if it gets out of control it can have devastating consequences.”
Last week University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said while he did not advocate the idea, the federal government would need to consider banning returned Australians from the UK and other countries as the new strain continues to spread globally.
“We can close the border, that's quite radical, but it's on the table as a possibility,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
But when pressed by reporters on such a suggestion on Wednesday, Ms Berejiklian said she was opposed to halting arrivals.
“Whilst there’s always a risk when you’re returning Australians back to our shores it would be a terrible blow if we stopped any Australians coming back home,” she said.
“I don’t want to see that. It’s a blow from a human compassionate perspective but also from an economic perspective.
“I think it’s unfair and unrealistic to suggest that we’re just going to completely close our borders to Australians.”
During December, NSW registered 178 infections in hotel quarantine, a significant rise compared to the 48 confirmed in August.
On Friday, NSW was one of several states to reduce its intake of returned travellers by half in a bid to tackle the new strain following a National Cabinet meeting.
National Cabinet considered blocking flights
National Cabinet adopted several new measures around flight travel, including the introduction of pre-flight testing of returning Australians, while masks will be mandatory on all domestic and international flights and at airports.
The closing off of international flights was discussed however was not recommended at that time.
University of Curtin epidemiologist Archie Clements previously told Yahoo News Australia housing returned travellers in inner-city hotels should be reconsidered, urging the state governments to find “innovative solutions” to hotel quarantine.
“If you look at what we did in Western Australia with the cruise ships and utilising Rottnest Island, I think innovative solutions like that [are needed],” he said.
“The Northern Territory is also an opportunity as they’ve got an airport with facilities nearby where they can house large numbers of people.
“We’ve got to look at strategies like that if we want to move large numbers of people back.”
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