Radical plan to keep UK strain out of Australia
WA Premier Mark McGowan is renewing his push for remote commonwealth facilities to be used for quarantining returned travellers in a bid to stop the spread of the highly contagious UK variant of COVID-19.
Mr McGowan said other measures had recently been undertaken, including halving the number of international arrivals and masks at airports, following concerns about the British strain.
"We need to constantly review and constantly update," he told reporters on Thursday.
"I'm more than happy to have another conversation with the federal government about the use of remote commonwealth facilities because those facilities are there and they are available and there are experienced staff that can deal with these matters."
One of the locations the Premier wants to use is Christmas Island.
"Clearly with the British strain that's something we should reconsider," he said.
However, Mr McGowan said quarantining travellers at tourist hub Rottnest Island, as was previously done, was not a consideration.
Six people are quarantining at home in WA because they had been at the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Brisbane, which has been evacuated after testing found six cases linked to the UK strain of COVID-19.
They have so far all tested negative for the virus, and the Premier said their close contacts were being monitored daily.
"They will be further tested, obviously, as time goes by," he said.
Mr McGowan said the situation in Queensland was "inexplicable" and showed the British strain was very worrying.
"We don't want it to get out into the community," he said.
"No one can guarantee that a mistake won't be made or that somehow it gets in, but we'll do everything within our power to prevent it."
Mr McGowan said he would get further health advice about whether there were any other measures required to combat the UK strain.
WA recorded two new cases of coronavirus overnight - both are men in hotel quarantine.
It brings the state's total number of confirmed infections to 881, including 17 active cases.
QLD LEADERS CLASH OVER QUARANTINE PLAN
Queensland's opposition has slammed the Premier's plan to shift quarantine responsibilities to mining camps, accusing Annastacia Palaszczuk of wanting to dump the continued coronavirus threat on regional communities.
Ms Palaszczuk said on Thursday morning she would ask national cabinet to consider housing returned travellers and quarantine staff at mining camps to protect the Sunshine State's cities following the outbreak of the highly contagious UK strain at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane.
But David Crisafulli said the plan didn't solve the failure to contain the deadly virus.
"Something is wrong with our quarantine process. The virus got out. They don't know how," the Opposition Leader told NCA NewsWire.
"And today, their solution is to pick up the problem and dump it somewhere in regional Queensland.
"They're not solving the problem, they're moving it."
Mr Crisafulli said the system needed to be "watertight".
"It doesn't matter if people are being held in a hotel room in Brisbane or a mining camp in Moranbah, it's the same problem," he said.
"Right now it isn't working, and that worries me."
Queensland health authorities are scrambling to trace the source of the outbreak as police sift through security footage from the Brisbane hotel, with the investigation so far failing to reveal how a hotel worker became infected and exposed hundreds of people in the community to the deadly strain.
"Queenslanders deserve to know what went wrong so we can be assured this doesn't happen again," Mr Crisafulli said.
"That's especially true for regional Queenslanders given this problem could now be coming to their backyard."
Ms Palaszczuk told reporters on Thursday morning the pitch to set up quarantine sites at mining camps was aimed at reducing the threat at hotel quarantine facilities in Brisbane and Gold Coast CBDs.
"I think this is a rational option, and if we are dealing with a strain which is up to 70 per cent more infectious, I think we need to be really serious about it," she said.
"I have asked (chief health officer) Dr Young and the health minister and the commissioner and her team to go and look at some options for the government to consider."
Ms Palaszczuk said some of the camps were "four star" quality and would have fresh air for guests.
There would also be capacity for all the staff and cleaners to be based on site as well.
VICTORIA RECORDS ZERO NEW CASES
Victoria has recorded zero new locally acquired cases of coronavirus on Thursday as more than 16,000 people were tested overnight.
The Department of Health and Human Services also revealed no new infections in returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.
There are 29 active cases of COVID-19 across the state. There were 16,533 tests undertaken in the past 24 hours.
There are now more than 200 testing centres in operation in Victoria, including a new testing site near gate one at the MCG.
Almost 200,000 tests have been taken in Victoria since the start of the year.
Face masks will also no longer be mandatory in all indoor spaces across Victoria, following the state's eight straight day of no new local cases of coronavirus.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Thursday masks will only be mandatory on domestic flights, at airports, in hospitals, on public transport, in commercial vehicles and at other retail locations.
He also said a number of Victorians in hotel quarantine in Queensland were being contacted and retested for the UK coronavirus strain after returning to Victoria since December 30.
The Premier said as a result of the COVID-19 fears plaguing Queensland, he said 18 people who had quarantined in Brisbane's Hotel Grand Chancellor and then returned to Victoria since December 30 will be followed up.
"We are contacting them. We are testing them. Some of them will need to isolate. Some will simply need to get a negative test," he told reporters on Thursday.
"There's a specific window where we believe there is some chance that because of the infections that have already been recorded in hotel quarantine, between staff and residents, and it is that UK strain, without any other link … circumstances are very much based on each person's travel movements and when they were in hotel quarantine."
NSW RULES OUT REGIONAL QUARANTINE
The NSW government has ruled out moving coronavirus quarantine hotels to regional areas, the state's health minister says.
It comes as the state recorded no new local cases of COVID-19 for the first time since January 6.
NSW authorities would not follow suit, Mr Hazzard said.
"This has been looked at very closely by the NSW public health team over the full duration of this particular pandemic," he said.
"There's strong views held in our public health team it makes sense to continue to have the hotel quarantine arrangements we currently have."
He said the main concerns were around transporting arriving overseas travellers to the regions, which might pose a risk of spreading the virus in transit.
Authorities also want to be able to quickly transfer a patient whose condition deteriorates to a major hospital, something that would be harder to do if the quarantine facilities weren't located in Sydney.
Visitors or residents of NSW who have been to Brisbane will be made to self-isolate, officials have announced.
The move came after Queensland announced a three-day lockdown of Brisbane, which will begin at 6pm Friday.
NSW will make anyone who has been in Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay, and Redlands from January 2 self-isolate.
A $200 on the spot fine will apply if you do not comply with the requirements to wear a face mask.
Children aged 12 and under are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable.
Places where face masks must be worn
You must wear a face mask indoors when you enter or work at
*retail or business premises that provides goods or services to the public including
*residential aged care facilities (visitors, not residents).
Premises that are used for the purpose of providing health services are not retail premises or business premises.
Face masks are also mandatory when you are using public transport or are a passenger in a taxi or rideshare vehicle when you are waiting at a public transport waiting area (such as a bus stop, train platform or taxi rank) for all staff in hospitality venues and casinos for patrons using gaming services.
From midnight Friday January 8, anyone coming into SA from greater Brisbane will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
SA Premier Steven Marshall announced a hard border closure to NSW on January 1.
He said there will be few exemptions for those returning after 12.01am on Friday, but SA residents, people permanently moving states and essential travellers will be permitted.
All those groups will still need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Travellers returning to the state will need to demonstrate they met the criteria upon crossing the border.
He said people travelling from Queensland to South Australia must follow the most direct route through NSW and not spend "unnecessary time" interstate.
Mr Marshall said a 100km buffer zone will be implemented for cross-border communities, allowing people in Broken Hill and Wentworth to freely enter the state.
"We're also going to be putting some transit allowances because there are people travelling through NSW who won't be stopping," Mr Marshall said.
Mr Marshall said border arrangements with Victoria would not change.
Victoria introduced a border permit system on Monday, January 11.
The traffic light-style system permits travel from "green zones" (no quarantine required) and "orange zones" (travellers required to be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result).
You are not allowed to travel to Victoria if you are from a "red zone" - presently, Greater Brisbane, and Greater Sydney including Wollongong and the Blue Mountains.
You can find out more here.
The NT declared Greater Metropolitan Sydney a COVID-19 hotspot from midnight on New Year's Eve, meaning anyone travelling from there must enter quarantine.
The NT had previously declared only seven Sydney suburbs hot spots.
Queensland, which had already declared Greater Sydney a hotspot, is assessing the situation as it unfolds.
Chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said on Thursday she was closely monitoring the New South Wales cluster and the new Victorian cases.
"I'm urging Queenslanders travelling to these states to reassess their plans - if it is not necessary, then consider staying here," she said.
"The next 24 hours are critical for Victoria and the NSW cluster is growing daily. Queensland is in a good position right now because we acted quickly to declare greater Sydney a hotspot."
Western Australia has introduced a hard border with Queensland, which will take effect from midnight on Friday, January 8.
Western Australia has already shut its border to NSW travellers but on Thursday said it will close to Victorian travellers too.
From 12.01am on January 1, only exempt Victorian travellers will be allowed into WA, while returning residents must self-isolate for two weeks.
Anyone who arrived in WA from Victoria on or after December 21 must also self-quarantine for 14 days.
Tasmania has declared nine Victorian sites as high-risk COVID-19 areas including restaurants, clubs, churches, shopping centres, hotels, and bars.
People in Tasmania who have visited are asked to self-isolate and contact the public health line on 1800 671 738.
Non-Tasmanians who have been in the areas in the specified times cannot enter Tasmania without an exemption.
It has measures in place requiring travellers from Greater Sydney to quarantine.
More details on travel alerts here.
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
Non-ACT residents are banned from entering the territory if they have travelled from hot spots, unless granted an exemption. That means all nonresidents who have been in Greater Sydney, the Central Coast or Wollongong local government areas will be refused entry at the border.
ACT residents have to sign an online declaration form before returning then quarantine for 14 days.
Originally published as Radical plan to keep UK strain out of Australia