The NT Health Department has only recruited 160 of its targeted 400 staff members to run the Howard Springs quarantine facility as part of its $500 million management takeover from the Federal Government, as the merging of the international and domestic quarantine starts on Monday.
Health minister Natasha Fyles announced that the government has hired a total of 160 staff for its “first tranche of recruitment”, who started to be trained and oriented just this week.
Ms Fyles, unfazed by deadline targets, said in a statement that “we will take as long as we need to get this right.”
Last Wednesday, she said that the NT Government would be integrating the quarantine operations this Monday that will see domestic and international arrivals going “through the same processes and same physical infrastructure”.
The merging of quarantine arrivals comes during growing numbers of Australian repatriates from India testing positive for coronavirus in quarantine.
Ms Fyles said the increase in staff means that the facility will be “equipped to accept an anticipated peak of around 1,200 arrivals in May” with plans to ramp that number up to 2,000 by June.
However, she stated that the staff hired are still under training and did not specify how long the training would last.
The government also did not say where the new staff came from.
As it stands, if the NT Health department were to solely manage the Howard Springs quarantine facility without the AUSMAT team and reach 1,200 arrivals in May, it would be one staff member to seven people undergoing quarantine.
“There is no deadline for AUSMAT to leave the facility during the transition and we will take as long as we need to get this right,” Ms Fyles said in a statement.
She did not detail how many AUSMAT members remain deployed in the facility.
In March, the NT Government signed a deal with the Federal Government to accept 2,000 returned Australians a fortnight, up from the initial 850. The deal also stipulated that 15 per cent of all Australians returning on international repatriation flights be quarantined at Howard Springs.
On Tuesday, the federal government suspended all passenger flights from India to Australia until May 15, after a massive outbreak of coronavirus in India that has crippled the country.
NT Health announced that another tranche of recruitment will begin in May as they target to hire 150 more staff.
The government also said that they have received 2,500 “registrants of interest” and will continue to review applications until positions are filled to “fully transition to a single model of governance.”
A senior leadership team has also been appointed; Gabrielle Brown as Executive Director Quarantine, Professor Di Stephens as Director of Medical Services Quarantine and Lisa Vermeulen as Director of Nursing and Midwifery Quarantine.
“A Medical Advisory Group has been appointed to oversee clinical governance of the facility to ensure the standard of care and infection control set by AUSMAT is continued throughout the centre,” Ms Fyles said in a statement.