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Queensland calls in debt collectors as unpaid COVID-19 hotel quarantine bills grow to $14 million – ABC News

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Travellers now owe the Queensland government $14 million in outstanding hotel quarantine bills, with around half of those invoices — valued at $6.9 million — now in the hands of debt collectors.
Data provided by the state's health department revealed that as of October 28, 2021, 13,295 people had applied for quarantine fee waivers, and of those just 2,575 had been granted one, either in part or in full.
Of the total 46,974 invoices issued for hotel quarantine since the pandemic began, adding up to more than $135 million, 11 per cent are considered significantly overdue.
"Queenslanders rightly expect travellers will pay for their hotel quarantine stays and not leave taxpayers to foot the bill," a spokesperson for Queensland Health said in a statement.
"Travellers who have commenced a payment plan or who have a fee waiver application pending are not referred for debt collection."
In its 2020-21 annual report, the health department expected to write off around $53.5 million in unpaid hotel quarantine debts, recognising them at "doubtful debts".
Sabrina* and her children are currently in hotel quarantine in Brisbane.
With three children under the age of four, Sabrina did not want to go into hotel quarantine — she does not know how she will pay for it — but felt she had no other option.
The family moved to Melbourne 18 months ago, but after experiencing homelessness due to a shortage in the rental market, they made plans to return to south-east Queensland for affordable housing and to be closer to family.
Sabrina said she had obtained an exemption to enter Queensland after six weeks of waiting.
But despite having secured a tenancy on a property in Logan, she was not invited to quarantine at home.
Instead, she was told she must enter hotel quarantine.
"We had already been homeless for so long, and I just felt desperate to get here," she said.
"I'd already signed a lease on a house in Mount Warren Park on the 17th of September, and now I've been paying $700 rent for a house that I can't even stay in," she said.
Sabrina said she was not given an explanation for why she was not eligible to home quarantine, and instead will now face a bill of thousands of dollars.
"The whole situation is making me feel very overwhelmed, and I don't know how they're expecting me to pay it," Sabrina said.
"But I just felt like I had no other option but to go into hotel quarantine if I wanted to get home, if I wanted to be able to enrol my children in school and have their life go back to normal."
Sabrina said she intended to apply for an exemption from her hotel quarantine bill after being released this week, and hoped to go on payment plan if the bill was not waived.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D'Ath announced new rules on Wednesday that would eliminate the need for hotel quarantine for some travellers.
From November 19, or as soon as 70 per cent of the state is fully vaccinated, travellers will be able to fly into the state and quarantine at home.
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There are some restrictions, including the need to have accommodation with "direct fresh air access" to your front door.
Travellers will also need to be fully vaccinated and have had their second jab more than two weeks before they enter the state. They'll also need to return a negative COVID-19 test in the 72 hours before they travel.
Those travelling from hotspots who do not meet the criteria will still need to quarantine at a designated facility.
*Sabrina's surname has been withheld for privacy
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