Hotels are quitting Australia’s border quarantine system amid fears that repeated outbreaks are damaging their brands – throwing the network into chaos.
A dozen establishments including Sydney’s five star Hilton and InterContinental and Melbourne‘s Marriott will no longer take part in the scheme, according to reports.
The move piles pressure on state leaders to find an alternative to the requisitioned city-centre buildings, which have been prone to ‘leaking’ cases.
Proposals include establishing remote ‘Covid camps’ where returning travellers can see out their 14-day quarantine away from large populations.
Hotels are quitting Australia’s border quarantine system amid fears it is irreparably damaging their brands after being named and shame over outbreaks (pictured, the Holiday Inn in Victoria where the most-recent outbreak took place)
The InterContinental hotel in Sydney (pictured, file image) was among those withdrawing from the quarantine scheme, local media reported
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk put forward the idea last month after the city of Brisbane was forced into lockdown when a cleaner at one of the quarantine hotels caught the virus.
The idea won backing from politicians in Western Australia, as well as epidemiologists and medical experts who argued that purpose-built facilities would do a better job of containing infections.
Billionaire businessmen Lindsay Fox and John Wagner have since stepped forward to say they will build and manage camps in the states of Victoria and Queensland.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is said to be keeping ‘an open mind’ about the camps, but insists that hotels will remain the primary quarantine facilities for thousands of travellers entering the country each week.
Dean Long, the head of Australia’s Accommodation Association, told the Financial Review that hotels are quitting amid fears over the damage the scheme is doing to their well-established brands.
Politicians are asking ministers to consider remote ‘Covid camps’ instead of hotels, with plans put forward to use mines in Queensland for the job (pictured)
He spokes after an outbreak at a Holiday Inn hotel in Melbourne forced Victoria state into a five-day lockdown to prevent more cases.
The state government dubbed the outbreak the ‘Holiday Inn cluster’ and pictures of the affected hotel appeared in newspapers around the world.
‘There is a huge reputational risk,’ Mr Long said. ‘Naming the cluster after a hotel is disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to the brand.’
Meanwhile Margy Osmond, head of the Tourism and Transport Forum, said regular guests are being put off staying at the hotels due to fear of catching the virus.
Hotel bosses agreed to help with the scheme out of a sense of ‘responsibility’, she said, but added: ‘I don’t think anyone expected this would go as long as it has’.
Sites under consideration for the ‘Covid camps’ including mining facilities in the town of Toowoomba and Gladstone, located in Queensland.
Ms Palaszczuk sent plans to be considered by Mr Morrison last month.
Meanwhile in Victoria, businessman Lindsay Fox wants to set up a temporary town near the airport in Geelong which could house some 1,000 returnees.
Australia completely shut its borders in March last year as the Covid pandemic began, barring anyone from arriving or leaving without an exemption – usually Australian nationals returning from overseas or key workers on essential business.
Upon arrival, exempt travellers must enter a hotel where they are required to stay for 14 days in total isolation and complete two PCR tests before they can leave.
If the tests come back positive for Covid, then their stay may be extended. Most travellers have to pay for their own quarantine, at a cost of $1,700.
Because hotel space is limited, tickets on incoming flights have to be rationed meaning just a few thousand can be sold each week.
Experts argue that remote bush sites would do a better job of containing the virus, and ensure that it does not ‘leak’ into busy cities (file image, a quarantine hotel in Melbourne)
Up to 40,000 Australian citizens are thought to be stranded abroad as a result.
Meanwhile the country has been unable to say when the system might end, with plans to open a quarantine-free ‘travel corridor’ with New Zealand in disarray and plans to bring back overseas students scrapped.
Despite the drawbacks, other countries such as the UK are starting to adopt hotel quarantines amid fears of importing vaccine-busting Covid variants.
UK arrivals from ‘red-list’ countries affected by the variants are now required to complete a 10-day quarantine at a hotel at their own expense before being allowed in to the country.
But doubts have been raised about the effectiveness of the system after it was revealed passengers from red-list nations are being allowed to mingle freely with other arrivals until entering the hotel, providing an ‘escape route’ for the virus.