Facility ready to quarantine 1700 COVID-19 victims
IT IS time to think outside the box and look at the solution staring us in the face to help limit the COVID-19 pandemic in New South Wales.
Twelve kilometres southeast of Grafton, NSW, the Clarence Correctional Centre is sitting empty, a ready-made quarantine facility if ever there was one.
There quite possibly might not be another location on earth so well equipped to deal with an influx of patients required to be isolated from the general population, and the timing is perfect.
As if by fate, just this week many of the contractors finished packing up their tools after three years of construction to hand the finished product over to Serco. Job done, leaving behind a highly secure, state-of-the art facility with unused medical, catering and general community services available at the ready, and, by the sounds of things, an enviable amount of comfort afforded to the criminals who will one day call the 1700-bed facility home.
Clarence Correctional Centre could potentially house all COVID-19 patients from the Northern NSW Local Health District at the peak of this outbreak, and possibly further afield - and such measures are well overdue.
Our nation is now paying for the disastrous decision to let people pour freely through the airport gates, sending those who test positive home in the trust that they will have the common sense to self-isolate and to do it properly.
The effects of this pandemic have already been catastrophic to our economy and will be long-lasting, but the longer it goes the more damaging that impact will be.
Our nation is sophisticated enough for most sectors to have a safety net of welfare and employee entitlements to fall back on for a period. But like the brain eventually shuts down when oxygen is cut off for long enough, our society as we know it can only survive on life support and no genuine cashflow for so long. It won't take long for the cash splash pool to dry up.
So let's flatten that damn curve and quarantine victims properly - short term pain for long term gain.
The only downside is that the prospect of being sent to a facility like this might make some people hesitant to be tested, and the dangerous ones are not those who are very sick and dying under strict supervision in hospitals - it's those with mild symptoms told to go home and are trusted to do the right thing, or worse still, that don't get tested at all.
Grafton will soon become home to the largest jail population in Australia when it opens to 1700 inmates later in the year - or whenever the time is right.
But in the meantime, why not gain the more palatable notoriety of being home to the largest and best quarantine facility in the world in the fight against a global pandemic? The time IS right for that.
And what a story to tell on the other side for all the sick law-abiding folk who would otherwise never have set afoot inside a jail in their lives.
We're all having to make a few adjustments. So if we're truly a global community in this fight together, then surely Serco can come to the party.
I think we can safely assume the grip of this pandemic will remain tight when the prisoners are scheduled to arrive at a date yet to be announced between June and August, and surely under these conditions it's not the time to be working out the logistics of transporting 1700 new inmates to this brand new facility.
For Serco it's a never-before opportunity to test run their systems before the real deal - to make sure they get THIS jail right.
In truth, Serco's done a fantastic job thus far bringing employment to the Clarence Valley, and developing and supporting several community engagement projects. But hell, outside this forgotten enclave on the North Coast, they could do with a good news story, right?
Desperate times call for desperate measures.