How Purpose-built Quarantine Facilities can Boost the Construction Economy

Image source: ABC News

A commitment to building pandemic-proof quarantine facilities in each capital city would be a boon for the construction industry, and would aim to effectively eliminate transmission of Covid-19 from returned travellers to the community. 

Earlier this year, the Victorian government proposed a dedicated quarantine facility for returned travelers from high-risk countries be built on Commonwealth land, and this week, the federal government committed to assisting to fund it. 

Two locations in outer Melbourne have been proposed: one in Mickleham, adjoined to an existing pet and plant quarantine facility in the city’s north, and another next to Avalon Airport.

The idea for the proposed Victorian quarantine facility echoes that of ‘gold standard’ Howard Springs in Darwin, where returned travelers are housed in separate, self-contained cabins.

The Howard Springs village was originally built in 2012 by Japanese oil and gas company Inpex to house fly-in fly-out workers during the construction of its NT plant.

The residential village facilitates up to 3,500 people and cost $600 million to build. 

While Howard Springs is a rare quarantine success story, it can only accommodate so many people.

To build a 3000-bed facility of the same ilk in Melbourne, it has been proposed, would cost somewhere around $700 million.

With the cost of lockdowns in Victoria and New South Wales roughly $1 billion a week, it makes sense to mitigate future lockdowns through purpose built quarantine facilities.

The federal government this week provided a memorandum of understanding for the project to the state, although it is not yet known whether an agreement has been reached on a location for the facility.

If the Mickleham facility – which is understood to be the preferred location of the state government – is approved, it is predicted design and planning will take up to four months, with a further four months needed to construct the facility, it would likely be operational by the end of the year.

Dr Ahmed WA Hammad, from the UNSW Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture, argues that modular construction is the fastest and most cost-effective solution to quarantine.

“Modular construction is safe, proven to be more sustainable, and is quicker to build than your traditional construction method,” Dr Hammad says.

“For quarantine facilities we’re looking at two options: adaptable facilities that are more permanent and can be used for some other purpose once the pandemic issue is resolved, or temporary quarantine facilities that can be built super-quickly and dismantled after the pandemic.

“These temporary quarantine facilities can even be made mobile so that they can be sent to various locations depending on need.”

Dr Hammad says construction times and costs would vary depending on different requirements such as location and size.

“If you wanted to build 50 rooms suitable for the purposes of quarantining, you are looking at three to 10 weeks, depending on several factors like quality level desired, level of adaptability of the space for after the pandemic, and the availability of materials and resources.”

It is Premier Daniel Andrews’ belief that outside of infection control, the proposed facility will have a number of purposes, making it a sound investment.

“This will serve a purpose for a long time…when we have a bushfire, for instance, and other emergency accommodation needs,” Andrews said.

Dr Hammad said care must be taken in the design of the village to ensure it is suitable in a post-covid world.

The state government will decide whether to go ahead with the project in September, taking into consideration factors such as the virus itself, vaccination progress and, according to Acting Premier James Merlino, “what the world looks like”.

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