An evacuee in the Christmas Island detention centre in February, 2020. (Image: AAP/Richard Wainwright)

Australia needs to increase the number of international arrivals we can house in hotel quarantine. The government should not have to choose between making an allowance for a lockdown-defying British pop star over the reported 40,000 Australians stranded overseas and migrants desperately needed for our economic recovery.

Today the national cabinet will discuss “good proposals” and ways to bolster the hotel quarantine system’s security after yet another breach. A Victorian security worker became infected with the UK variant of COVID-19. No other cases of community transmission have been recorded since he tested positive late on Wednesday.

So are any of the proposals expected to be discussed viable?

Purpose-built sites

Toowoomba construction firm Wagners has proposed building a 1000-bed site. Cooks, cleaners and security would live onsite, and travellers could land at Toowoomba airport.

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The benefits: the first 500 beds could be ready in less than six weeks. While waiting for Commonwealth funding, the Wagner family could consider dipping into its 2018 $3.75 million defamation payout from Alan Jones.

Concerns about the spread of the virus through ventilation could be addressed with custom builds.

The drawbacks: Australia struggles to lure workers to remote locations to work under gruelling, occasionally risky, conditions on farms. Asking staff — including doctors, who would need to be nearby in case of severe COVID-19 symptoms or other illnesses — to isolate at a hotel in Toowoomba for weeks on end doesn’t sound like a lucrative recruitment offer.

Student housing

Universities, starved of cash-laden international students, have proposed housing arrivals onsite in student accommodation.

The benefits: universities might be able to rehire some of the staff they’ve laid off, and some experts say student accommodation is better suited to the needs of quarantined travellers.

The drawbacks: have you seen university accommodation? Regardless of COVID-19, I would insist on several deep cleans. And given that even state governments struggle, there are questions about whether universities would be capable of handling such a risky situation.

Remote quarantine centres

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has raised the possibility of using mining camps. The Northern Territory has used Howard Springs, a disused workers camp 25 kilometres south of the Darwin CBD, as a remote quarantine centre, housing travellers and those who can’t quarantine at home.

The benefits: remote facilities mean more space with units surrounded by fresh air, reducing the risk of transmission.

The drawbacks: when Australians were evacuated from Wuhan early in the pandemic, they were sent to Christmas Island to quarantine. This raised questions about human rights breaches, with limited medical staff and equipment initially.

It also sends a pretty poor message to remote communities that cities are happy to outsource their problems and increase access to health services when needed.

Vaccinate quarantine workers

Hotel quarantine workers are classified as critical workers and are expected to be vaccinated in the coming months. There have even been calls to ban international arrivals until this takes place.

The benefit: obviously the safety of hotel quarantine workers is pretty important given they’re doing such a risky job.

The drawbacks: there’s no evidence any vaccines stop people from catching and transmitting the virus. The vaccines simply limit the chance of severe symptoms, meaning asymptomatic employees could still be the source of community spread.