The federal government wants to bring up to 2,000 more Aussies home every week, so now it’s calling on states to boost their hotel quarantine capacity. What’s unusual is that a big part of the solution could depend on Rottnest Island – as in, the island off Perth where quokkas roam free.
Here’s the current situation. Around 27,000 Aussies have registered their interest to return home, but at the current rate of 4,000 arrivals per week, there’s a massive backlog.
That’s why the government is calling for this number to be increased by 50%.
“There’s plenty of empty hotel rooms in these capital cities, and I want them filled with returning Australians,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said.
Where’s everyone going to go?
New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia have each been asked to boost their intake by at least 500 returnees per week. South Australia has also been asked to up its intake by a smaller amount.
That already brings us close to the 2,000 the government is trying for.
On top of this, the Deputy PM has written to the leaders of Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT to see if they’re also able to take in more people.
In short, many of the new arrivals will simply be put in even more hotel rooms. It’s not like there’s a shortage of accommodation now that international travel is basically on hold.
What’s happening to Rottnest Island?
After initially proposing to use Christmas Island to quarantine the extra returnees, Rottnest Island has come back into the spotlight as a place to keep a bunch of returned travellers away from the general population.
“I’ve said all along that Rottnest could be available if required in these circumstances,” WA Premier Mark McGowan told the ABC.
“Obviously the school holidays are coming up, lots of people have booked holidays, but the urgency of this I don’t think is in the next week or two.
“I think it’s in the next few months so the potential is there for Rottnest if the Commonwealth wants to work with us on that.”
It’s wouldn’t be the first time Rottnest Island has been used for quarantine purpose since the pandemic started.
Back in April, when people were frantically returning home and state government were scrambling to get quarantine measures in place, hundreds of Aussies from cruise ships and a flight from South Africa waited out their 14 days on the island.
I’m stuck overseas and this is good news, what do I do now?
Things are still in the planning stage, so there’s not a lot you can do just yet.
The whole thing’s expected to be the topic of discussion for this Friday’s national cabinet.
However, Smartraveller has an info page about how to navigate the ever-changing processes of getting back home, including the caps on arrivals for each state.
What else is happening?
Labor wants the government to go a step further and use air force planes to pick up Aussies stranded around the world. They’re also calling for more Commonwealth facilities to be used instead of just hotels.
“There are a whole range of Commonwealth facilities in addition to hotel space that Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have all said they’re prepared to do more with some support from the Commonwealth,” Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said.
With even more people set to go into mandatory hotel quarantine, let’s hope there are no more fuckups in future.Image: Getty Images / David Gray & Neal Pritchard