Australian state considers mining camps for coronavirus quarantine

FILE PHOTO: A police officer watches an entrance to a quarantine hotel, where returning travelers are kept in isolation for a period to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as a patient transport service vehicle departs in Sydney, Australia, August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An Australian state premier said on Thursday she was considering the use of remote mining camps to quarantine international arrivals, aiming to break a cycle of coronavirus outbreaks around the country at city hotels used for isolation.

Queensland's state capital of Brisbane emerged earlier this week from a snap three-day lockdown sparked by the discovery of the highly infectious strain of COVID-19 in a worker at a quarantine hotel.

"I think with this new strain, we have to put all options on the table," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said of the camp proposal, which received a mixed reaction in Australia.

Since Australia effectively eliminated local transmision of COVID-19 in the second half of last year, almost all new outbreaks have stemmed from quarantine hotels.

Palaszczuk said health officials are considering "a number" of camps near airports as a way to isolate COVID-19 cases and prevent the potential spread of the virus through common infrastructure such as airconditioning.

Neighbouring Northern Territory began using a shuttered mining camp outside the city of Darwin in October for quarantining international arrivals.

A proposal for wider use of camps is on the agenda of a national cabinet meeting next week but New South Wales, the country's most populous state, has already voiced its objections. The vast majority of incoming travellers to Australia arrive in Sydney where they are quarantined at city hotels.

"There's strong views held in our public health team it makes sense to continue to have the hotel quarantine arrangements we currently have," said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, citing difficulties in providing support staff in regional locations and concerns about transporting infected travellers.

In Brisbane, authorities transferred 129 quarantined travellers from the Grand Chancellor hotel to another hotel late on Wednesday while investigations into the latest outbreak are conducted.

Both Queensland and NSW reported zero locally transmitted infections overnight, but six in returning travellers, while the Northern Territory recorded two cases in hotel quarantine.

Australia, which has recorded a total of around 28,650 infections and 909 deaths, has managed to suffocate several small outbreaks in recent weeks through targeted lock downs, contact tracing and mandatory mask-wearing.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by Jane Wardell)

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