Race is on: How Qld gets two COVID-19 quarantine camps to replace hotels

The federal government has awarded a contract to develop a Brisbane quarantine facility, one day after Queensland started building its own near Toowoomba.

Aug 27, 2021, updated Aug 27, 2021
Damascus Barracks at Pinkenba, where the federal government will build a dedicated quarantine facility.

Damascus Barracks at Pinkenba, where the federal government will build a dedicated quarantine facility.

The move means Queensland has gone from having no alternative to hotel quarantine to expecting two dedicated COVID-19 quarantine facilities at Pinkenba and Wellcamp.

Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham announced on Friday that Multiplex had been chosen to develop a 800-bed facility at Pinkenba, near Brisbane Airport.

It comes one day after the state government started work on its own 1000-bed facility at Wellcamp, near Toowoomba, which doesn’t have federal support.

Birmingham says the Pinkenba facility, which the federal government will build and the state will operate, will be used for quarantine and for potential future health crises and natural disasters.

“Whilst it will be used for any ongoing quarantine requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, it will also be there in the years to come to support responses to natural disasters or other crises,” he said in a statement.

“Unlike state proposals, the Pinkenba site is appropriately close to Brisbane International Airport and all necessary medical facilities, including three major hospitals.”

Construction work will begin shortly with the first 500 beds to be operating in the first quarter of next year.

The Queensland government supports both projects, saying the facilities will allow the state to replace its inadequate hotel quarantine system, which has been the source of a number of COVID-19 outbreaks.

However contamination on site has thrown doubt over the budget and timeframe.

The Wellcamp announcement came a day after the Palaszczuk Government put a two-week ‘pause’ on most interstate arrivals to hotel quarantine.

With border restrictions funnelling more travellers into hotel quarantine, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young had expressed concern that new hotels and staff were having to be brought into the system at short notice.

Developer John Wagner said the Wellcamp facility would cost about $66 million, with the first 500 beds to be ready by the end of the year and another 500 to come online by the first quarter of 2021.

The state will rent the facility from the Wagner Group, which is developing the site, for an initial 12 months.

“The cost of our facility will be less than a third of Victoria, less than a third of Howard Springs, and we’re taking all the construction risk, and we’re taking the risk if, at the end of 12 months, the Queensland government no longer needs a quarantine facility,” Wagner told the Nine Network on Friday.

“We have an alternate use for this facility.

“It’s a very low-risk thing for the Queensland taxpayer.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was blindsided by the announcement on Thursday that the project was underway, as was Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio.

Some Toowoomba locals such as federal Liberal National Party MP Garth Hamilton and philanthropist Clive Berghofer oppose the facility.

The Australian Medical Association Queensland said the local medical community must have input into the facility.

AMAQ president Professor Chris Perry said the state government needed to explain how virus patients at the facility would be transported and treated.

He warned that the facility could potentially lure local doctors away from Toowoomba by offering them higher wages.

“We can’t afford to outsource our quarantine issues to regional areas without providing those areas with adequate resources,” Prof Perry said in a statement.

“Toowoomba Hospital is a very good facility and could manage COVID cases with the proper resourcing, but it is already at capacity and would struggle to deal with a major outbreak.”

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