International flights are set to resume into Victoria in the next fortnight with CBD quarantine hotels remaining the primary accommodation for returned travellers given Victoria’s planned purpose-built quarantine facility will take a minimum of six months to build.
The government will on Thursday announce the resumption of international travel and a hotel quarantine program with more stringent health protocols to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t leak into the community. Flights are set to resume in the next fortnight, multiple government sources speaking on the condition of anonymity said.
Passenger flights have not arrived in Melbourne since February 14 when the Holiday Inn cluster that grew to almost 25 cases prompted a short lockdown.
Flights have been paused since mid-February.Credit:Getty Images
Victoria had been preparing to increase its weekly intake by 200 to about 1300, but on February 12, when his government halted international flights, Premier Daniel Andrews said that when they resumed there could be a reduction in the number of returnees until COVID-19 vaccines were widely administered. He also questioned whether people should be allowed into the state for anything other than compassionate reasons.
Flights will once again arrive in the city after the government reviews into ventilation at the state’s quarantine hotels and the risk of new, more infectious strains of coronavirus were completed.
“New, hyper-infectious variants of concern mean we need new thinking when it comes to mandatory quarantine, which is why we commissioned this work,” a government spokeswoman said.
“Investigating the safest, most effective model of quarantine is critical to ensuring we can bring people home safely while the vaccine is not only rolled out in Australia, but globally as well.”
The government is planning to build a quarantine facility outside the city that would reduce the risk of COVID-19 seeping into metropolitan communities.
Department of Premier and Cabinet officials are considering 10 sites, including Avalon Airport. The facility is likely to scale up its intake of arrivals from about 250 people per week.
The state Liberal opposition has questioned the value for money of a long-term quarantine facility, given the federal government hopes there will be widespread vaccine takeup by the end of the year. But vaccination rates from some countries may remain low, and new variants of the virus could create new danger if vaccines do not work against them.
The government also plans to use the facility for future pandemics or emergency situations such as bushfires and a final business case will evaluate the potential for relocatable facilities.
The facility will probably include single-story, self-contained accommodation for a range of family sizes with separate ventilation systems and easily cleanable surfaces.
The government wants the site to be close to an international airport and a public hospital, in line with recommendations from the Coate inquiry into the hotel quarantine.
NSW is accepting more than 3000 travellers a week and Western Australia and Queensland are both taking more than 1000. NSW has received more than 130,000 travellers since hotel quarantine began last March compared with 36,000 in Victoria, where flights were halted between July and December during the second wave of COVID-19 infections caused by virus leaks from hotels.
The Victorian Liberals have repeatedly questioned Mr Andrews, who is on leave due to a back injury, about whether he will recuse himself from any deliberations on the new facility due to his personal relationship with the Fox family, which part-owns Avalon Airport.
The Premier has a close personal relationship with Lindsay Fox’s son, Andrew Fox, who is responsible for Linfox’s airport and property arms. Mr Andrews dined earlier this year at the Fox family’s Portsea home. The government is also considering rolling out COVID-19 check-in kiosks built by a company part-owned by David Fox, another of Lindsay Fox’s sons.
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