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Return to Australia: What we know about NSW’s quarantine hub for students

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A NSW Treasury spokesperson told The Herald that the government had created a shortlist of student accommodation providers but a decision had yet to be made. Source: Sam Wasson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

New South Wales (NSW) is developing plans to bring interntional students back to its shores. Federal education minister Alan Tudge confirmed that the state, along with Victoria and South Australia, is among the states and territories that are working on pilot schemes. Australia’s budget previously hinted that international students could return later this year, with small, phased programmes potentially kicking off by year-end. 

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, The Block at Redfern, a 600-bed, 100 million Australian dollar student accommodation development, is among the locations being considered as the state’s first quarantine facility for international students when they return to NSW. The 24-storey tower by Scape, a student accommodation company, is expected to be completed in a fortnight. Citing industry sources familiar with the proposal, another nearby accommodation provider, Iglu, which has inner-city locations, is also in line to quarantine students. 

Despite these potential quarantine facilities, the federal government has not received a proposal for the return of international students from the NSW government, said the report. An NSW Treasury spokesperson told The Herald that the government had created a shortlist of student accommodation providers, but a decision had yet to be made. The spokesperson added that international students are one of Australia’s largest and most important export sectors, an industry worth about A$14 billion a year to the NSW economy before the pandemic, which supports thousands of local jobs.

The South Australian government has approved a plan to let incoming international students serve two weeks of quarantine at Parafield Airport in Adelaide. The new proposal by the state government is still pending endorsement by the federal government. Tudge said the South Australian proposal appeared to meet the government’s criteria but the plan would be worked through carefully in the coming weeks. “International students have been great for our economy and society and we want to get them back, however, we obviously have to be very careful we don’t risk further COVID outbreaks in doing so,” he was quoted saying.

Proposed NSW quarantine centre to have good airflow systems

NSW

Poor ventilation in quarantine centres is a cause for concern. Source: Sean Rayford/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

Scape co-founder Craig Carracher said The Redfern’s building had been re-engineered with airflow systems, door sensors and contactless access points to help combat the spread of COVID-19. He added that the development is “probably one of the best and safest buildings for quarantine” and is ideal for students. 

Carracher also expected the building would exceed preconditions for quarantine. He said one of the design advantages of the development was the positive airflow system in the corridors to keep air from the rooms flowing into common areas.

Poor ventilation in quarantine centres is a cause for concern. Speaking about South Australia’s new plan to bring international students back, Shadow Minister for Health and Wellbeing Chris Picton said: “It is incomprehensible that we would set up one quarantine facility just for international students and still rely on hotels — decades-old, poor ventilation — for all the other returning people coming back to Australia from very high-risk countries around the world.”

“If we can do it for international student arrivals, then surely we can get returning Australians out of hotel quarantine as well,” he added. “We have a situation where people are going into hotel quarantine without COVID–19 but are catching it inside hotel quarantine, which is totally unacceptable.”