NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has weighed in on the stoush between WA and the federal government over who is responsible for making the hotel quarantine system safer, saying the states have been tasked with managing the quarantine system since the start of the pandemic.
“It is the Commonwealth that decides what the cap is on Australians coming home… While there are obviously different responsibilities … it was made clear to us that the quarantine system was something the states had to look after,” she told the media on Monday morning.
Ms Berejiklian said it was up to the states and territories to ensure their quarantine systems are as strong as possible, and it was “not healthy to have these blame games” whenever there are COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Once that decision was made New South Wales kicked into action and we got our police force to run the system,” she said.
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Ms Berejiklian said reducing the number of Australians allowed to return home wasn’t helpful either because that also delays the return of other people who want to be here such as international students and skilled workers, which will help create jobs and boost the economy.
Grappling with a three-day lockdown after COVID-19 cases linked to the Perth Mercure Hotel, WA Premier Mark McGowan has pushed the federal government to open military bases and Christmas Island to quarantine overseas travellers.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has pushed back against the idea, saying such facilities are not fit for purpose.
But Christmas Island was used in March and April last year for people returning from China and Japan.
The federal opposition has now backed Mr McGowan’s calls for national quarantine facilities to be built to take the pressure off hotels.
“Hotel quarantine was a relatively short- to medium-term option to deal with Australians needing to come back home. It is not a long-term option,” Federal labor health spokesman Mark Butler said on Monday morning.
Mr Butler said returning Australians and the Australian public deserved an effective quarantine system and it was up to Prime Minister Scott Morrison “to fix this mess”.
“Every single outbreak that we have seen in all of our major cities over the last few months that’s ruled in incredibly disruptive lockdowns … all of this disruption flows from a failure of hotel quarantine.
“We need an effective quarantine system. That is why this mess is such a failing on the part of the prime minister.”
The head of the doctors’ union in Western Australia has also slammed state and federal governments for persisting with “faulty” hotel quarantine.
Australian Medical Association state president Andrew Miller said innocent people who were arriving without coronavirus were being infected in quarantine.
Dr Miller described the system as an abuse of human rights.
“The issue is that hotel quarantine isn’t fit for purpose,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
Dr Miller said federal experts were being “grossly negligent” and urgent change was needed.
“Hotels cannot be made safe for COVID-19 positive people,” he said.
“Governments need to put money into building mining camps – I’m told it can be done within a couple of months.
“And put everyone into N95 masks tomorrow. It’s all low-hanging fruit, frankly.”
Go overseas ‘only for the most extraordinary of reasons’
Mr McGowan has also criticised the Commonwealth for allowing so many people to leave the country during the pandemic.
“Many of the people who are COVID positive are people who left Australia recently and went to COVID-laden countries, I’m just not copping that,” he said.
“That people recently went to India and come back COVID positive, and then we have incidents like this occur, and then somehow the Commonwealth says that’s OK. It’s not OK.
“If you want to go overseas, it should be for only the most extraordinary of reasons at this point in time. Not to go overseas for a wedding. Even to go overseas for a funeral. We have to be a lot tougher in relation to letting people out of Australia.”
Ms Berejiklian agreed that people should not be travelling to hot spots around the world for no good reason.
“Public sentiment would say you should only be leaving our shores if you had to,” she said on Monday.
Metropolitan Perth and the neighbouring Peel region are in a three-day lockdown, with the WA premier warning some restrictions will be extended beyond midnight on Monday, when the current lockdown was expected to end.
There were no new locally acquired cases reported in WA on Sunday, but two new infections were recorded among returned travellers in quarantine.
More potential exposure sites have been added to the WA community warning list.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese warned unless the government gets the vaccine rollout right, there will be further lockdowns.
“We really need the government to get its act together to make sure that, particularly those who are vulnerable, get the vaccine they need,” Mr Albanese said.
The nation reported no new locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Sunday, although there were 10 new infections among returned overseas travellers already in 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