CANBERRA, Oct 24, 2020, ABC News. Since Australia’s mandatory hotel quarantine system started at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 130,000 travellers have been loaded onto buses and shuttled to their isolation destinations, ABC News reported.
The Federal Government is holding out hope that a vaccine will be widely available next year, but there are no guarantees.
That means for the foreseeable future, Australia will need to have some form of quarantine in place for travellers who pose a risk of bringing the virus into the country.
Currently, anyone flying into Australia (excluding those coming from New Zealand) has to go into hotel quarantine for 14 days.
But a national review of the system has recommended states and territories reconsider this one-size-fits-all approach.
Why has there been a review into hotel quarantine?
The National Cabinet (that’s the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers) agreed to a national review of hotel quarantine arrangements back in July.
The nation’s leaders wanted to look into how staff were handling infection prevention and control, testing compliance, management of confirmed cases, and a whole range of other factors.
So how well has hotel quarantine been working?
Failures in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system have been widely reported — particularly the decision to use private security contractors, which is still being scrutinised by a separate state inquiry.
Outside of Victoria, the national review (conducted by former health department secretary Jane Halton) describes hotel quarantine as a “first line of defence” that has “undoubtedly slowed the passage of COVID-19 through the Australian community”.
Between March and August this year, 96,000 international and 34,000 domestic travellers spent 14 days locked up in hotels, ranging from budget to luxury, across the country.
Only 851 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 during their quarantine period — less than 1 per cent.
What has the review recommended?
While the review found hotel quarantine had been mostly successful to date, it called on states and territories to consider more sustainable models going forward.
As pressure mounts on governments to increase travel to and from Australia, the review found the current model may not be the best solution:
“This type of suppression measure has been effective and has saved lives, but the hotel quarantine system is vulnerable to breaches and these are hard to eliminate.
“It is also an expensive resource and comes at a high cost to individual, social and economic wellbeing.”
It floats several suggestions for alternative models, with a few key overarching strategies to adapt the current quarantine model to work in a COVID-normal world. Essentially:
- Make the hotel quarantine experience better for people going through it
- Develop different options for travellers based on an assessment of risk
- Exclude people who are coming from very low-risk places from the need to quarantine
- Consider a national quarantine facility to provide surge capacity
- At-home quarantine, shorter timeframes and monitoring devices are all on the cards
The review suggests using a mix of hotel and at-home quarantine as well as exemptions for travellers arriving from “low risk” locations (as is already in place for New Zealanders) to free up capacity.
Other options suggested included reducing the quarantine period to seven days as well as using apps and “wearable monitoring devices”.
It’s still not clear how this proposal would work in practice, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday he wanted experts to work on “innovative” solutions.
Other forms of quarantine such as “on-farm, at a mining camp or on campus” will also be trialled in preparation for reopening Australia to international students and other migration “down the track”.