Victoria still has no immediate plans to reopen its hotels for quarantine, after the interim report into the state’s bungled program was released on Friday identifing critical shortcomings including in infection control and a lack of clear accountability.
The head of the inquiry, former judge Jennifer Coate, recommended that where hotels are to be used, police should be on site 24 hours a day and each hotel should have a dedicated infection prevention and control unit as well as independent safety auditing.
As of last month, more than 29,000 Australians had registered with DFAT as wanting to return to Australia after a cap on international arrivals created significant capacity problems.
Under a deal struck last month with the Northern Territory government, thousands of Australians who are stranded overseas are being returned over the next six months in an expanded rescue scheme using new Qantas flights and the Howard Springs workers’ camp near Darwin.
Announcing the Tasmanian deal, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was also talking with other states about increasing quarantine spaces.
“We’re working every option to help as many Australians return home as quickly as possible,” Mr Morrison said.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said Tasmania was pleased to support the national effort to help Australians in need, saying the state “will never turn its back on its fellow Australians”.
“As I have said for some time, we stand ready to play our role to help bring Australians home,” he said.
“This is being achieved in a COVID-safe way for returning Australians and Tasmanians, with all inbound passengers required to be tested prior to travel, and will need to return a negative COVID-19 test on or after day 10 of their quarantine period before entering our community.
“This deal also means supporting our hotel industry which has seen a significant downturn in bookings this year.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said DFAT officials would work with Qantas to ensure the most vulnerable Australians registered are given priority access to the flights.
“Our focus is on helping Australians who want and need to return,” she said.
“More than 411,000 Australians have returned since 13 March and around 30,600 have been assisted by the Australian Government including on 66 directly facilitated flights.”
The Morrison government also announced there will be more than 130 direct flights from New Zealand to Hobart starting next year.
The federal government will spent $49.2 million for around 30 Australian Border Force, Australian Federal Police investigators and biosecurity officers to make Hobart airport an international gateway for three flights a week from New Zealand, going down to two flights a week in winter.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.