Returning Olympians will quarantine at Howard Springs
About 360 members of the Australian Olympic team in Tokyo will quarantine at the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, officials have confirmed.
During an exchange at the Senate’s Covid-19 committee, officials played down the idea that the group would displace other returning Australians.
When asked to break down the 18 flights expected to bring people to the Howard Springs facility in August, Dfat deputy secretary Tony Sheehan said two facilitated flights from Tokyo were organised by the Australian Olympic Committee. Those flights were bringing members of the Olympic party back to Australia, and Howard Springs had agreed to take them for the two weeks of quarantine.
Labor’s Kristina Keneally: “Are they displacing stranded Australians?”
Sheehan: “No … and they are of course returning Australians. They were being discussed previously before other flights were organised, so I think the Northern Territory has done an excellent job of ensuring that the use of Howard Springs will be maximised through the period.”
The disparate nature of the QAnon conspiracy theory would make it difficult for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to investigate people who believe in the conspiracy theory for possible election interference, the Senate select committee on foreign interference on social media has heard.
Committee chair, Labor senator Jenny McAllister, asked PM&C’s first assistant secretary for national security, Lachlan Colquohoun, whether disinformation campaigns from people associated or aligned with the QAnon conspiracy theory would be considered foreign influence. Colquohoun said while all Five Eyes countries had investigated QAnon, it was not a group on its own:
That’s a deeply complicated question due to the nature of QAnon, noting that it’s not an organisation. It’s simply a group of conspiracy theorists, many of whom disagree with each other, and actually have countering the arguments which they say are QAnon-aligned.
I don’t know how I as the head of National Security Division could task an agency to look at the activities of QAnon writ large because QAnon is not an actual thing … that said, the threat of people who associate themselves with QAnon has been investigated by five eyes intelligence communities for many years.
He said if foreign actors picked up and amplified misinformation propagated by people associated with QAnon, then that would be considered foreign influence.
Dfat reveals numbers of stranded Australians by country
The Covid-19 committee has turned to the issue of stranded Australians.
Tony Sheehan, a deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, says there are currently 38,523 Australians registered with the department as seeking to return home from abroad.
He adds an extra nugget of detail:
Of those, 6,039 have told us they don’t wish to return until the 4th quarter.
That means October, November or December this year. Labor’s Kristina Keneally asks about this 4th quarter number, which hasn’t previously been reported when Dfat gave updates on the tally of stranded Australians.
Sheehan said periodic reviews had added questions for Australians so they could give Dfat more information, and not everyone wished to return immediately.
Of the 38,523 Australians currently registered as wishing to return home from abroad, 4,569 are considered to be vulnerable.
Sheehan has also provided a breakdown of some of the top countries in which there are stranded Australians:
- India 10,268
- UK 6,405
- US 2440
- Thailand 1078
- Pakistan 1018
- Philippines 994
- Indonesia 780 (including 95 who have said don’t want to return until fourth quarter)
Christmas Island is not an option as a quarantine site for Australians returning from abroad because of its distance from a tertiary-level hospital, the Senate’s Covid-19 committee has been told.
The committee has been looking into any progress towards setting up new quarantine sites in addition state-run hotel quarantine.
Senator Jacqui Lambie asked about Christmas Island. Alison Frame, a deputy secretary at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, said officials had looked at Christmas Island but it did not meet the national criteria of being close to an international airport and most importantly proximity to a tertiary hospital.
Why is it good enough to put refugees over there for years on end … but you can’t bring our own travellers back?
I’m saying, senator, that the specific medical needs of people who come back at higher risk of having Covid require additional considerations about proximity to a tertiary hospital.
The committee has also been told there are currently 1,279 people accommodated at the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory, although that number is likely to ramp up in August due to the scheduling of repatriation flights.
Officials explained that while 2,000 was the absolute maximum capacity, it was practically difficult to reach that level, because the facility was divided into “neighbourhoods”. Each neighbourhood held arrivals from a different repatriation flight, and any spare accommodation in that neighbourhood was not filled by subsequent arrivals.