Coronavirus

Northern Territory quarantine facility to more than double its capacity to bring stranded Australians home

Staff conduct a Swabbing run at a PPE drill at the Howard Springs quarantine facility in Darwin. Source: AAP

More Australians will be able to return home over coming months with the Howard Springs quarantine facility increasing fortnightly capacity to 2,000.

More stranded Australians will soon be able to return each fortnight with a quarantine facility in the Top End given the all clear to increase its capacity.

Capacity at the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin will increase to 2,000 per fortnight up from 850, over the coming months.

The decision was made on Friday at a national cabinet meeting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders.

Chief nurse Alison McMillan recently travelled to the Howard Springs site to see what the capacity could be increased to.

Mr Morrison said the limits for other states would stay the same, with the federal government encouraging Victoria to accept international flights again.

Victoria has not been accepting flights from overseas since the virus again leaked from hotel quarantine, prompting a short lockdown across the state.

It is understood 10,000 Victorians are seeking to return home from overseas.

Senator Birmingham says other states are carrying the load.

"It would be a much fairer arrangement if Victoria did its bit," he said. 

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The leaders were also briefed on the best way to respond to new coronavirus strains which have emerged around the world.

The Russian strain of the virus has emerged in Brisbane's hotel quarantine system.

The leaders were also given an update on Australia's virus vaccine rollout.

As of Thursday evening, more than 71,000 people have been vaccinated, including 20,000 aged care residents.

GP clinics will soon be part of the rollout, with Health Minister Greg Hunt saying officials would be responding to thousands of clinics from Friday to finalise arrangements.

It comes as the first AstraZeneca jabs have been administered in Australia after a shipment arrived on Sunday.

Frontline health workers at the Murray Bridge Hospital, east of Adelaide, have been the first to get the new jab, which is initially being rolled out to South Australia and Western Australia.

Europe blocked 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneza coronavirus vaccine from being sent to Australia, but it will not affect the rollout.

Mr Hunt said the doses had not been factored in to distribution numbers for the states and territories.

Australia has asked for a review of the decision, which saw Italy receive approval to use the European Union's export control system for the first time amid rising tensions about vaccine shortages.

"It is arguably the most intensely competitive international environment since, perhaps, the Second World War," Mr Hunt said.

He said while 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca were due to arrive from overseas, 50 million are being made locally in Victoria.

The first doses of the locally made jab are due to administered from March 22.

Italy argues Australia is not a high-risk country, with low case and death numbers, in stark contrast to countries overwhelmed by the pandemic.

The EU has been frustrated with a slow vaccine rollout and criticised AstraZeneca for a shortfall in delivering millions of doses.

The Australian Medical Association's Chris Moy said the government's decision to lock in local manufacturing would protect against "vaccine nationalism".

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction's restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus. Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, Tasmania

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