Australia

Queensland mulls remote mining camps for returning travellers as state grapples with UK variant of coronavirus

Source: AAP

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says it's too risky for travellers to quarantine in Australian cities amid an outbreak of the UK coronavirus strain.

The Queensland government wants all international arrivals to quarantine in remote camps to protect Australia's urban populations from the UK strain of coronavirus.

The move comes after Brisbane's Grand Chancellor Hotel was shut down when six people linked to the quarantine facility tested positive for the highly contagious COVID-19 strain.

A hotel cleaner and her partner, who are among the six, were contagious while in the community and triggered a three-day lockdown in Brisbane last weekend.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says it's clearly too risky to quarantine travellers in the middle of Australia's capital cities anymore.

Queensland is instead looking to order people to quarantine in vacant regional mining camps.

"We are looking at alternative plans to hotel quarantine that is based right in the midst of CBD where you have a whole lot of staff that come in from all around, you have airports, people flying in and out of airports," she told reporters.

"This is a rational option and if we are dealing with a strain, which is up to 70 per cent more infectious, I think we need to be really serious about it."

Ms Palaszczuk said she would propose moving quarantine from city hotels to remote camps at a national cabinet meeting on 22 January.

"It's a matter for state and territories, but I think with this new strain. we have to put all options on the table, and these are sensible, rational options," the premier said.

The Northern Territory's Howard Springs facility provided a good model for the proposal.

"Howard Springs works very well in the Northern Territory, and there's no reason why we couldn't do something similar here in Queensland, or if not around the country but of course, that's the matter for other jurisdictions," Ms Palaszczuk said.

The official investigation into the Grand Chancellor cluster is yet to identify any wrongdoing by staff or guests.

Ms Palaszczuk indicated engineering investigations into air conditioning and water systems would be critical.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said that the infected cleaner only worked there on 2 January, so she hadn't been in the room of the man who initially brought the virus strain in from the UK in December.

"There is nothing that I have found that says that the cleaner did anything wrong," she said.

"This is a virus a very, very contagious virus, and I absolutely want to thank the cleaner for all the help she's provided and she's continuing to provide that is critical remembering.

"She's infected with it so she is unwell, so she is providing us with all of that assistance."

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Dr Young reported four people had tested positive for the virus in hotel quarantine in the 24 hours to 9am on Thursday.

None are linked to the Grand Chancellor cluster with two men from the US and a couple from South Africa.

She's now confident that contact-tracers had found every person that the cleaner and her partner had contact with when they were out in Brisbane last week while contagious.

It comes as Victoria's stalled return to work schedule will resume on Monday as mask rules are also eased.

The state reached eight consecutive days without new local and interstate-acquired coronavirus cases.

Private workplaces can return to 50 per cent capacity from Monday, while public service offices can return to 25 per cent capacity.

Mr Andrews said many people will want to continue to work from home.

"They can do the job from home for some part of the week and they're going to want to do that," he said.

Mask rules will also return to Christmas settings, meaning they will only be mandatory in some settings, including supermarkets, large indoor retail areas, public transport, hospitals and airports.

Mr Andrews also said the Sydney red zone will be reduced as soon as possible so more Victorians can return home.

"I understand it's not easy," he said.

"I just want to assure all Victorians, and particularly, those that want to come home but can't because it's not safe right now, you will be in this circumstance for not a moment longer than the public health experts tell me you have to be."

NSW recorded zero new local coronavirus cases in the 24 hours to 8pm Wednesday night, and two cases in hotel quarantine.

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: NSWVictoriaQueenslandWestern AustraliaSouth AustraliaNorthern TerritoryACTTasmania.

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