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Student housing unsuitable for quarantine: Victoria government

PILOT PLAN
The Victorian government will not take up offers from the student accommodation sector, said local reports. Source: William West/AFP

International students would enter Victoria via hotel quarantine because the Victorian government has deemed purpose-built student accommodation unsuitable for quarantine, reported The Age. This would be a stark contrast to the pilot plans by New South Wales and South Australia — the former plans to use student accommodation buildings to quarantine an initial 250 students per fortnight while South Australia will reportedly host 160 students per fortnight in cabin-style lodging at an airport in Adelaide. 

An alternative quarantine site in Mickleham, Melbourne is unlikely to be ready until early 2022. Until the Mickleham facility opens with an initial 500 beds, state authorities would only use hotel quarantine because it allows the dedicated agency COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria to manage students’ entry, said the Australian newspaper.

The Victorian government submitted a draft plan to the federal government in mid-June. A spokesperson declined to divulge details such as the numbers and timelines in the plan to The Age, but said: “We are working with the Commonwealth to welcome back international students when it is safe and reasonable to do so.” 

A federal government spokeswoman said Canberra had provided feedback to Victorian authorities on a “working draft” submitted in June, but questions on its content should be directed to the state government. “[The Education Department] will continue to work with Victoria as it develops its plan,” she was quoted saying.

PILOT PLAN

There are still no details on the numbers and timelines of Victoria’s pilot plan. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Nothing concrete for Victoria’s pilot plan

Scape co-founder Craig Carracher leads a purpose-built student accommodation industry group that liaised with the NSW government before submitting its pilot plan to the Commonwealth. He claimed that the Victorian government had not contacted the 25 operators in the industry group this year.

Carracher said Scape buildings were newer than most hotels and constructed with up-to-date ventilation systems that could prevent instances of airborne infection, such as the one in Adelaide hotel quarantine that went on to spark Victoria’s lockdown last month. Scape is a student living provider.

“If student accommodation is good enough for NSW, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be good enough for Victoria, at least as a consideration,” he was quoted saying by The Age. He questioned the basis on which the government formed its view as he claimed no one had engaged with the providers or inspected the new buildings, which were built to COVID compliance standards and offered to the Victorian government without any response.

Data from the Victorian government shows that international education was the state’s single largest export sector in 2019, worth 13.7 billion Australian dollars and supporting around 79,000 Victorian jobs. Over 250,000 international students travelled to Victoria to study in 2019; in December 2020, the number dropped to 120,000 due to the impact of the pandemic.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently announced that the state is pausing its pilot plan to facilitate the return of international students while the state remains in lockdown. The South Australian government is reportedly planning to proceed with its pilot plan to fly in its first batch of students by September.