Melbourne’s $ 580 million purpose-built quarantine facility is getting ready to welcome its first quarantine patients next week, but with COVID-19 case numbers on the decline it is only anticipating up to 10 guests on day one.
- The first 500 beds will be made available at the facility from Monday, February 21
- The government only expects a small group of residents initially as the existing hotel quarantine system winds down
- Hume Council has expressed concerns about the impact the facility will have on local infrastructure
The Center for National Resilience in Mickleham will eventually be able to accommodate up to 1,000 people, but when it opens on Monday only 500 beds will be available and few will be occupied.
“We’re imagining small numbers, seven to 10 [residents] on Monday, and then we’re just going to need to see as that grows, “Police Minister Lisa Neville said.
For the first time the federal government, which is funding the facility, has confirmed the expected cost of completion is $ 580 million.
It will be the most expensive of several centers set to be built around the country.
During a media tour of the facility, some of the beds featured towels folded into the shape of white elephants.
But despite what the creatively shaped towels may imply, the federal and Victorian governments maintain the facility is not a waste of money.
“This is another step in our ongoing management of the COVID-19 pandemic and increases our ability to continue to safely return travelers into Australia for any ongoing quarantine requirements,” Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said.
The Mickleham facility is built and owned by the federal government, but will be operated by the Victorian government for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During that time it will house unvaccinated travelers, who must quarantine for seven days upon arrival in the state, and members of the community who have COVID-19 but cannot isolate safely at home.
The facility will open on the day Australia’s international border rules will dramatically lift, allowing foreign tourists back into the country for the first time in nearly two years.
But the state government also sees a future for the facility beyond this pandemic.
“You might be able to provide emergency housing in bushfire times for example,” Ms Neville said.
“It is built to be able to provide, feed people, care for people in a really nice space.
Even the opposition agrees.
“It’s a shame it wasn’t in place maybe a year or so ago when it was needed most. But it’s an important piece of armory to ensure there are no more lockdowns,” Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said.
Chair of epidemiology at Deakin University Catherine Bennett said even though cases were declining, there will be a use for the facility in the short and medium term.
“If things were to change, if our cases numbers start to push up again in winter, then we’d probably be back to where we are now,” she said.
“You might not have a lot of people, but there will still be sufficient demand on that facility from arrivals from overseas and locals who can not isolate at home or need who need to be discharged from hospital and have care.”
Longer term, Dr Bennett said it was about pandemic preparedness.
“Whether it’s another variant that comes along, that we do decide we want to try and stop at the International borders… that’s the sort of situation I imagine these facilities being used for,” she said.
“It’s decent quality accommodation, but really good quality infection control.
‘You can see it from the moon’
When it opens on Monday, the 500 beds will be split between two villages with central kitchen, laundry and waste facilities. Perimeter security will be provided by Victoria Police.
Two further villages are due to be completed by March 31, taking the site’s capacity to 1,000 beds.
Each village has 60 cabin-style units to house both solo travelers and families, with electronic food ordering to minimize contact between residents and staff.
Contactless entry and bespoke ventilation systems have also been installed.
“It has world-class ventilation, I think we’ve said you can see it from the moon,” Ms Neville said.
Victorians who are unable to isolate will be able to stay at the facility without charge, while adult travelers must pay a fee of $ 1,500 for their stay, with $ 500 charged for each additional adult.
Children aged three to 18 will be charged a fee of $ 250 for their stay.
Local community shares concerns about facility
Craigieburn Residents Association president Debra Phippen said the government had no consultation with the local community before building the facility.
“I do not think they worried about the community at all, I think they ignored it,” Ms Phippen said.
She said local residents attracted to the area by new developments and investment see the new quarantine facility as a “downside” to moving to the area, with concerns about possible COVID spread.
Ms Phippen said there are also fears the increased traffic to Mickleham from travelers needing to quarantine could worsen traffic and make life difficult for residents.
“The roads are becoming very congested, personally I do not take the freeway to work anymore because the freeway is so congested,” she said.
The Hume City Council expressed its concerns about the impact of the facility in an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year.
In it, Mayor Joseph Haweil wrote that “while we did not ask for the Center to be built in our community, we understand its national importance and we are ready to work in partnership with both the Victorian and Australian Governments to ensure the best outcomes” .
Mr Haweil lobbied in the letter for increased investment in local infrastructure to alleviate problems with traffic congestion.
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