‘They could fly directly in’: Push to create quarantine hub in Queensland city full of empty hotels

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A Federal MP is calling for a quarantine hub to be established in Far North Queensland to help Australians stranded overseas get back home in time for Christmas.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said states needed to increase their hotel quarantine capacity to allow more Australians back into the country after international arrivals were capped at 4,000 people per week in July.

Currently travellers who are able to get back must spend 14 days quarantining in a hotel at their own expense.

Far North Queensland Federal MP Warren Entsch said Cairns, where many hotels were empty because of travel restrictions, was well positioned to become a quarantine hub.

Warren Entsch smiles as he leans against a wall in Parliament.
Warren Entsch says businesses in Cairns have the capacity and the experience required for the task.(AAP: Mich Tsikas)

“We have an international airport here, they could fly directly from whatever country they are stranded in,” Mr Entsch said.

“We have the facilities here, we have hotels that have shut down because of this pandemic.

A row of balconies on a hotel building.
Mr Entsch says several hotels in Cairns are already operating as quarantine hubs.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

“They have never had a problem, they have worked exceptionally well.

“We have got a very capable hospital here that is fully equipped to be able to deal with any emergency.

The ABC has sought comment on the idea from Home Affairs and from the office of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Numbers and broken heart icons are spread over a map of Western Europe
The Remove the Cap website has heard from Australians stuck in more than 30 countries.(Supplied: Remove the Cap)

Cairns economy takes $1b hit

Queensland Hotels Association chief executive Bernie Hogan said the economic benefits of making Cairns a quarantine hub for returning Australian citizens would provide a boost for the region.

“This may be an opportunity to have those Queenslanders get back to work, who are in those hotels,” he said.

“But also in the food preparation and the transport and the services that go into running one of these hotels.

“It is a decision [individual operators] have to make, and it will be widely considered, I’d say, by the hotel industries.

“It may not be the typical guests or patrons that they’re used to, but they’re large, long-term contracts that would obviously help those hotels that are able to secure them.”

A large, luxurious-looking hotel.
The new Bailey hotel in Cairns in Far North Queensland remains closed due to a lack of visitors.(ABC News: Kristy Sexton-McGrath)

A Cairns Regional Council report found the local economy was expected to take a $1 billion hit, with nine out of 10 businesses in the region impacted by COVID-19.

The report found the unemployment rate was expected to climb to 12 per cent, with 13,000 jobs affected, including 7,700 job losses.

The 4870 postcode – which encompasses the city – has the highest number of people receiving the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program in Queensland.

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