The Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility will soon be responsible for quarantining 15 per cent of all Australians returning on international repatriation flights.
- The Howard Springs quarantine facility began taking in repatriated Australians last October
- The facility also quarantines domestic travellers in a separate section managed by the NT Government
- Experts have described the facility as a “gold-standard” for infection control
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility would expand to accept 2,000 returned Australians a fortnight, up from 850.
Speaking after National Cabinet, Mr Morrison said the Commonwealth had entered into an agreement with the NT government to expand the workers’ camp.
“That will be done over the next few months,” he said.
“That is an important addition to the capacity of those quarantine facilities, to receive those return chartered flights that Australia has been putting in place for many, many months.”
After Mr Morrison’s announcement, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner revealed the management of the facility would undergo a significant change — with the NT Government taking over both the domestic and international quarantine operations.
“The Territory government will assume management facility from the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth will continue to work hand in glove with us,” he said.
Mr Gunner said merging the domestic and international cohorts “is what the Australian government wanted us to move to [and] we are more than happy to take on that responsibility.”
Currently the NT Health department is responsible for domestic arrivals at the facility from interstate, while international arrivals are managed by the federally-funded National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC).
Mr Gunner would not say how much extra money the Commonwealth was providing to fund the expansion.
Mr Gunner said this decision had been aided by a significant decrease in domestic travellers needing quarantine and that the change would not increase the risk of the virus getting out into the community.
“What we are moving towards is the same model, with many of the same people involved, but a clearer governance structure and clear certainty of who is accountable for what,” he said.
NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said police had long favoured consolidating operations into “a single governance model” and that the removal of federal oversight would not damage operations.
“The infection and control procedures that we have in place are world class and that is held equally in NT Health as it is with the NCCTRC,” he said.
“NCCTRC play an incredibly important service to the rest of the country and to international hotspots when they are called upon. We want to make sure that their ability respond is not dulled.”
Mr Gunner said the expansion of the facility would be a “huge logistical job” and that work would begin immediately.
“We have agreed to this expansion because we know Howard Springs can play a larger role for the nation without compromising the safety of Territorians.”
Mr Gunner said the workforce at the centre would need to increase from over 100 to 500.
“A recruitment drive will start this month, and new staff will start and be mobilised from May,” he said.
More than 4,600 international arrivals have quarantined at the Howard Springs quarantine facility since repatriation flights to the Northern Territory began on October 23.
The former workers’ village housed Australians evacuated from Wuhan and the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship before it began taking on Australians returning on federal government-organised repatriation flights.
The village was vacated in 2019 and was handed over to the NT government just before the pandemic hit.
There have been 67 positive COVID-19 cases identified at the facility since flights began last year.
There have been no cases of community transmission in the Territory, with all cases related to international or interstate travel.
Mr Gunner also confirmed that the vaccine roll-out in the Northern Territory was on track, with 1,840 frontline health workers inoculated so far and more than 2,200 vaccines delivered in total.
He said the NT government would receive its first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines next week and would begin administering doses immediately.