A deal to use the NT’s Howard Springs quarantine facility to bring stranded Australians home will be announced tomorrow, NT Senator Dr Sam McMahon has said, with eight flights reported to be announced.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to meet with Chief Minister Michael Gunner in Sydney today, with Dr McMahon saying the announcement would be made tomorrow – most likely after National Cabinet media reports say.
The ABC reported Howard Springs is expected to process 1,000 international returnees per month beginning within weeks.
The announcement is expected to say there will be eight Qantas repatriation flights to Darwin, four each from London and Delhi carrying 200 passengers per trip. India is one of the worst hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic with cases surging past seven million on Sunday, taking it ever closer to overtaking the United States as the world’s most infected country.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has 38,200 Australians who have registered their presence overseas, with 29,100 of those saying they want to come home.
Howard Springs, the former Inpex workers’ camp, was used to house people returning from Wuhan and passengers from the ship the Diamond Princess in Japan in February.
Last week Australian Medical Association NT president Robert Parker called for an urgent review into management of the facilities and their standards after the NT Independent exposed a video showing a group of about 20 people partying in close proximity at the facility, with some ignoring the rule to wear masks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday the Howard Springs facility may be needed to help get Australians stuck overseas home.
Mr Gunner earlier pronounced that his priority was to get stranded Australians back home before Christmas.
“That will be top of the agenda when I meet the Prime Minister this week,” he said.
“I just want to see more Australians home by Christmas.
“We’ll be talking about how we can scale up Howard Springs to do that.”
Currently adults pay $2,500 to quarantine in Howards Springs, families $5,000 and a concession price of $1,250. A month ago Mr Gunner said the true cost was probably $3,400 to $3,500 and suggested that could change but he has made not announcement out that.
There about 3,500 beds in Howard Springs but capacity is reduced when people are broken up into different cohorts, Mr Gunner said in an interview with ABC Radio on Monday and has admitted that the biggest limitation on Howard Springs would not be bed numbers but staff.
“It’s not that we had those people just sitting out there on a shelf waiting to be tapped, they had other jobs,” he said.
“So, the conversation the Australian Government, it’s not a straight dollar conversation, it goes, how do you manage your people resources out there in a sustainable way?”
“…we’ve got to have conversations about how we’re managing and paying for and supporting all the staff that will be out there doing that work.”
It is the first time since March when travel restrictions were put into place across Australia that Mr Gunner has travelled out of the Territory.