Aerial view of the Clarence Correctional Centre after major works are complete. Photo: Simon Hughes.
Aerial view of the Clarence Correctional Centre after major works are complete. Photo: Simon Hughes. Simon Hughes

Prison? Or COVID-19 quarantine centre?

A PROPOSAL to temporarily re-purpose the new Grafton jail as a quarantine centre for COVID-19 pandemic patients looks less far-fetched every day.

Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said he had received a proposal from a constituent and has passed the proposal onto NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

"It's a good idea," Mr Gulaptis said. "In these times, frankly we have to consider all ideas and be prepared to think outside the box.

"I've passed the information onto the Health Minister with my recommendation."

Taking action that just weeks ago seemed ridiculous has become the norm, with Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan revealing this week tourist facilities on Rottnest Island, 20km off the WA coast, would be used to quarantine people suspected of COVID-19 infection.

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During the week the government has cleared the island of tourists and converted tourist accommodation to quarantine facilities.

Support for re-purposing the new jail has come from other areas too. The same could be done at the soon-to-be-commissioned Clarence Correctional Facility at Lavadia says a builder who has spent two years on the site, Steven Adams.

"It's an empty jail at the moment," Mr Adams said. "It's an ideal set up for a quarantine facility which could take the pressure off the hospital system.

"It can house up to 1700 people, it's got its own built in health clinics and each of the cell blocks can be isolated, so people with symptoms could easily be housed separately from the healthy population.

He said the jail managers, Serco could use the quarantine period to check out their systems during the quarantine phase.

Clarence Correctional Centre New Grafton Jail
Clarence Correctional Centre New Grafton Jail

"People would be surprised how comfortable the set up is at the jail," Mr Adams said.

"In fact people would be really surprised prisoners lived in such good conditions."

He said extensive medical facilities had been planned for the jail, which would make it perfect for dealing with people recovering from COVID-19 infections.

"There's two, possibly three clinics which could be equipped for dealing with the virus," he said.

 

Mr Adams said even in Italy, which had been devastated by the disease, there were examples where coronavirus could be beaten.

"There's a little town, called Vo, where they have been able to contain the disease," he said.

"Right from the start of the outbreak they completely isolated and now there is not a person with the disease."

Mr Adams' assessment of the new jail site was backed up by Grafton doctor, Allan Tyson,

Dr Tyson wasn't asked about the site's suitability for a quarantine facility, but how it would operate if a coronavirus outbreak occurred among the prison population.

He said its modular design, with separate, self-serviced cell blocks would be excellent for isolating prisoners who contracted the disease.

"The other advantage is the jail site is well away from the major population centres," he said.

The CEO of the centre manager Serco ASPAC CEO, Mark Irwin, said as far as his company was concerned the complex would remain a prison.

"Serco is very proud to partner with government to deliver vital public services, and as a business we are focussed on doing as much as possible to ensure the continuity and ongoing provision of services on behalf of government," he said.

"We are in a unique position to support NSW Government in a number of different ways and have provided a range of options related to quarantine and other initiatives to help manage the spread of COVID-19.

"These measures have not included re-purposing of the Clarence Correctional Centre, and we have had no discussions about the use of the facility other than as a prison when it is operational later this year."



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