The Centre for National Resilience in Howard Springs, Darwin is Australia’s largest mandatory supervised quarantine facility.
Located in the nation’s Northern Territory (NT), the facility went under regional government control in May of 2021. It had previously been operated by the nationally-run Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT). Neither the territory nor the Commonwealth have explained what prompted the transition.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner stated at the time that the state management would provide a “clearer governance structure and clear certainty of who is accountable for what” at the facility.
NT’s Australian Medical Association branch president had publicly expressed concerns that the Howard Springs Center was managed by “under-qualified people” and was understaffed.
“The NT government has staked its political reputation on its management of coronavirus, and has credited itself with making the Territory ‘the safest place in Australia’ during the pandemic,” reports ABC News AU. “But in the face of constant skepticism over its ability to safely manage Howard Springs, the government has remained outwardly confident it is up to the task.”
A year before, the facility had been an “obscure and dormant” mining workers’ accommodation camp on the outskirts of Darwin. It was first put to use as a screening center for coronavirus evacuees from Wuhan, China.
The complex is comprised of hundreds of single occupancy cabins which are air-conditioned and have an en-suite bathroom. Each room has a veranda for the occupant to access fresh air.
The facility is used to house domestic travelers, overseas fruit pickers, international students, and repatriated Australians who are subject to a mandatory quarantine once they arrive in the Northern Territory. It also houses those positive for COVID or suspected close contacts of those who have the virus.
The Howard Spring Centre holds between 650 – 850 occupants for two weeks at a time.
“More than 9000 people have completed their quarantine there without a single biosecurity breach,” says OnlyDarwin.com.
While in the facility, each person must stay in their own room or veranda space unless authorized to leave or in the case of an emergency. While away from their cabin, the facilities residents are required to wear masks and stay 1.5 meters away from other human beings. Although exceptions are granted for spouses and children, people are instructed to avoid congregating.
Residents are not permitted to share any physical objects, including books, playing cards, or food. Alcohol is also prohibited as are recreational items including scooters, skateboards, bikes and rollerblades.
None of the residents can have visitors and they are barred from receiving care packages.
The cabins do not have kitchenettes and cooking equipment — microwaves, rice cookers, toasters and electric fryers are prohibited. Meals are prepared on the premise. Accommodations are made for vegetarian, vegan, Halal, medical dietary needs and food allergies, but not during the first 24 hours of someone’s stay. No meal delivery services are permitted on the facility’s premises.
A violation of any of the regulations is punishable by a $5,000 fine. A standard quarantine stay is 14 days long.
“If COVID-19 is spread between residents because people do not [follow] this Direction, affected residents will be required to remain in quarantine beyond 14 days,” the Northern Territory government notes in its description of its two facilities. “If you do not undergo a [COVID-19] test, you will be required to remain in quarantine a further 10 days at your own expense.”
Residents are tested with nose and throat swabs three times during their mandatory stays on days one, five, and 12.
A two-week quarantine costs $2,500 per person or $5,000 for a family.
The facility needs a total of 400 staff members to operate according to the government.
“Recruitment is underway for approximately 450 dedicated employees to support the expansion of the Centre for National Resilience (Howard Springs Quarantine Facility) in Darwin,” the Northern Territory government said on an online job board. “With a variety of healthcare roles available, including positions in Allied Health, Nursing and Medical, this is a great opportunity to grow your career, experience The Territory and make a real impact helping Australians returning home.”
All staff members wear personal protective equipment at all times at the Howard Springs facility. This includes gloves, masks, and protective clothing covers. They also must submit to a daily nasal swab COVID-19 test.
“Celebrities’ social media posts paint an idyllic picture of their 14-day quarantine stay at the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility, in contrast to the stark pictures from professional photographers allowed access into the camp this week,” reports The Daily Mail. “Social media pictures show detainees enjoying drinks on their balconies, enjoying swims in the pool, and even having parties, while the professional pictures show staff in full PPE gear delivering supplies and sparse rooms.”
Hayley Hodgson, 26, recently described her 14-day quarantine at the facility to UnHerdTV:
“You feel like you’re in prison. You feel like you’ve done something wrong, it’s inhumane what they’re doing. You are so small, they just overpower you. And you’re literally nothing. It’s like ‘you do what we say, or you’re in trouble, we’ll lock you up for longer’. Yeah, they were even threatening me that if I was to do this again, ‘we will extend your time in here.'”
Breakouts have become a common occurrence at the Howard Spring facility. On Nov. 29, three teenagers were arrested by local authorities after they escaped from the center. They had all been taken to the facilities after being identified as close contacts of a case from the remote community of Binjari, near Katherine. All three teenagers had tested negative.
Days before, a 27-year-old man had escaped the facility and ventured into Darwin’s main nightlife area. After he was spotted scaling the facility’s fence, he was apprehended by police and returned to Howard Spring, where he subsequently tested negative for COVID-19 via a PCR test.
A 33-year-old woman from Victoria also scaled the fence and escaped the facility in January. She was caught within 15 minutes and fined over $5,000.
A 77-year-old man from the United Kingdom — who had traveled to Australia to see his son — died at the facility in November after he drank an entire contraband bottle of vodka in one day. The facility has been accused of “breach of duty of care” for their lack of intervention in the man’s demise. Police have not confirmed if there is an ongoing investigation, per the NT Independent.