A new quarantine facility has been established at a tourist park in Canberra's inner north, as health authorities work to manage COVID-19 cases across the territory's continuing outbreak.
Cabins at an O'Connor tourist park will be used to quarantine people who test positive for COVID-19 and close contacts of confirmed cases if they are unable to quarantine appropriately at home.
The first person to enter the facility, which is set back from nearby residential streets, arrived on Friday.
The ACT reported 32 new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday, equalling the highest daily number of cases recorded since the outbreak began last month.
At least 24 cases spent some time in the community while infectious, while 10 patients were in Canberra hospitals being treated for COVID-19.
The high daily case number came as health authorities moved to establish the new quarantine site for an initial period of three months.
The O'Connor quarantine facility has more than 130 cabins, which will be able to cater for individuals and families across six separate accommodation areas.
There is a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom cabins on the site.
"The site has been selected due to suitability to meet the requirements of a quarantine facility during a public health emergency, and is in addition to other quarantine options in the ACT," a spokesman for ACT Health said.
The self-contained and separated cabins significantly reduce the likelihood of transmission between people in quarantine at the site, a risk that has been associated with hotel quarantine.
There will be no accommodation cost to the individuals who quarantine at the O'Connor facility, which ACT Health has dubbed the Ragusa Quarantine Facility, named for the Adriatic port city which first mandated quarantine for incoming ships in 1377.
People who have tested positive for COVID-19, and who need to relocate from their homes, in the ACT have so far been quarantined at accommodation at the Australian National University, a facility which will remain open.
A spokesman for ACT Health said it would be a personal choice for people to move to a quarantine facility.
"All guests will be encouraged to stay for their whole quarantine period. But if guests find the facility is not suitable for them, we will work with them on other options for managing their quarantine period safely," an ACT Health spokesman said.
The spokesman said security will be present on the site to ensure the "safety and wellbeing of people staying there".
People in quarantine are provided with some pantry supplies on arrival, along with activity packs and mental health and wellbeing information. Food support will be available for those who need it.
"All cabins are self-contained with stove tops, microwaves and fridges. Guests will be able to arrange deliveries of groceries and take-away as normal. Deliveries will be managed through the Information Hub to monitor access to the site," an ACT Health spokesman said.
The outdoor cabin model is similar to the Howard Springs quarantine facility, 25 kilometres from Darwin in the Northern Territory.
That facility is a converted accommodation village, built for fly-in fly-out construction workers in 2012.
The establishment of the quarantine site in O'Connor comes ahead of an expected release this week of more detail around the future of public health restrictions in Canberra.
As vaccination rates increase and restrictions are slowly eased, health authorities are preparing to manage a larger number of cases of COVID-19 in the community.
The current lockdown in the ACT is due to end at 11.59pm on Friday, October 15.
Hotels and accommodation providers in Canberra first offered to make space available for people needing to self isolate or quarantine in April last year.
ACT Health initially rejected a proposal from the Australian National University to use its accommodation facilities as quarantine sites, arguing the university's facilities were unsuitable.
Returned international travellers were quarantined in the Pacific Suites Hotel on Northbourne Avenue, which was the only hotel which met strict requirements imposed by the ACT, before the ACT said it would not host any more repatriated travellers due to cost concerns.
About 40 Commonwealth government officials returning from the G7 in June were quarantined at the Australian National University's Davey Lodge, which the institution said demonstrated a "workable and safe model" for future use.
However, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has previously said the federal government should consider building a quarantine facility if there was an ongoing need to quarantine government officials.
Mr Barr has said it would be unlikely the ACT government would construct its own purpose-built quarantine site, but said before the federal budget in May the Commonwealth should prioritise funding for dedicated national quarantine facilities to aid the return of overseas travellers to Australia.
"Additional quarantine capacity will provide opportunities to consider the return of international students to Australia, which continues to be a significant challenge for universities based in the ACT," he said.
The Chief Minister said at the time an increase in domestic travel would put further pressure on the expensive hotel quarantine system.
"We have also seen that the workforce requirements for repatriation from high risk countries are more significant and the risk of the virus spreading from quarantine is elevated," he said.
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