The Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility is likely to accommodate a large number of international arrivals for a mandatory two-week period as the federal government eases limits on inbound passenger numbers.
“The Morrison government has been working with the NT government to finalise arrangements to use Howard Springs for quarantine to enable more Australians to return from overseas,” a prime ministerial spokesperson told AAP.
Space has become available at the facility due to a reduced number of domestic travellers requiring quarantine.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was expected to provide further details of the arrangement at Friday’s national cabinet meeting, but the gathering of state and territory leaders has been postponed until next week.
“There have been extensive preparations undertaken on that matter. We’re in the final stages of concluding those arrangements,” he told reporters in Cairns on Thursday.
More than 29,000 Australians have told the government they want to return home but are stuck due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The prime minister said more than a quarter of 4000 Australians considered to be vulnerable had returned home in recent weeks.
“We’ve been working now for some months as we’ve been getting more and more Australians home, particularly those in vulnerable situations,” Morrison said.
Special Qantas flights from London and India are expected to start from next week, while the federal government is also set to lift the cap on international arrivals.
Friday’s national cabinet meeting has been delayed until next week with the prime minister’s return to Sydney from Queensland prevented by “technical issues”, his office said.
Pressure is mounting on the Victorian government to lift restrictions after Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average fell to 8.9 on Thursday and just six new cases were detected statewide.
After months of severe lockdown, Melburnians are anxiously awaiting an announcement on Sunday about what freedoms they could regain.
Morrison claimed the federal government did not tell states what to do in their areas of responsibility despite a concerted campaign from senior ministers to end Melbourne’s lockdown.
“I’m not here to give advice or instruction to premiers,” he said.
Hours earlier, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg made the same demands of the Victorian premier for the fourth day running.
“My message to Daniel Andrews today, as is my message to him every day, is give Victorians back their freedom this Sunday,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
Morrison has also been a strident critic of school closures, travel restrictions and Victoria’s plan out of lockdown at different stages during the pandemic.
NSW recorded more infections than Victoria for three consecutive days, sparking fears the state is on the cusp of an outbreak.
There were six new locally acquired cases in NSW on Thursday, down from 11 the previous day. A further five were detected in hotel quarantine.
The state government wants more than 20,000 people tested each day after the rate fell below 16,000.
Queensland on Thursday recorded one new case in a traveller who returned from Africa and Papua New Guinea, with 15 of the person’s contacts now in isolation.
By Matt Coughlan