Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam stressed that scientists “do not yet know the impact of the vaccine on transmission”.
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Numerous doctors have cited concerns via written messages to the Queensland Government flagging warnings at the Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor.
This was after speculations that airborne disease specialists deemed it to be necessary for investigating whether there was any airborne transmission of the UK strain of coronavirus at the said zone.
The letter was signed by cardiologists, anaesthetists, general practitioners, nurses and physicians, yearning for aerosol scientists and occupational hygienist to be engaged, along with a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) expert, if they haven’t been already.
The letters read, “We believe experts from these three fields have an important role to play in elucidating the cause of viral spread both within the hotel, and in future planning for all hotel quarantine around Australia, and could piece together an important piece of this puzzle for the nation.”
In line with the matter, Kate Cole, the President of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists explained that the group would use science and engineering to make sure that control measures were in place.
“We’re really the science behind the safety. We need to address and accept the risk of aerosol spread of airborne transmission because that’s a key piece that’s missing here. No amount of reviewing CCTV footage is going to pick that up. “
She emphasized that it is imperative to involve technical specialists to have a closer look at the indoor air quality in ventilation inside the facilities and understand if that has been a key factor; as they highly believe it’s likely what contributes to the outbreak.
Meanwhile, Occupational and environmental physician David Allen revealed that he did not understand why the Government had not already engaged occupational hygienists like Ms Cole.
As per Dr Allen, “There’s an ongoing concern amongst a lot of health professionals that the Government isn’t acting on the possibility of aerosol transmission of COVID-19,” Dr Allen said. The particles are small enough to stay suspended in the air. They can be transmitted at significant distances — that means room to room. “
He cited an example, like other international agencies like the CDC [Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US] and the ECDC [European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control], that have admitted aerosol transmission is actually prevalent.
Given that the Government has not taken any action yet, according to Dr Allen, poses a serious threat to the country in general.
It was made known that the Hotel Grand Chancellor was evacuated and shut on Wednesday after a spread of the UK variant on its seventh floor. As of now, a major investigation is being carried out to delve into what triggered the cluster that has infected four returned travellers at the hotel thus far, including a hotel cleaner and her partner.
Welcome to live coverage of Australia’s response to the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
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New South Wales health authorities will ramp up testing on workers transporting Australians returning from overseas, after an infected driver unwittingly put thousands of people in Greater Sydney at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Staff in police-managed quarantine hotels will get tested daily for COVID-19, including drivers
NSW may also test international airline crew who arrive in Australia
Fixing flaws in quarantine is crucial now as a more contagious variant starts circulating overseas
Drivers had been getting weekly throat and nose swabs for the virus, but from January 21, all people transporting passengers coming back from overseas will have a daily saliva test.
The test involves taking a small amount of saliva to detect fragments of the virus and is about 85 per cent accurate at picking up COVID-19.
Security staff in NSW quarantine hotels have been getting saliva tests every day they present for work since mid-December.
“Progressive roll out to other staff in the police-managed quarantine hotels will occur throughout January and February 2021,” NSW Health said in a statement.
“We will also be implementing daily saliva and weekly oropharyngeal testing [swabs] of all staff in the special health accommodation, including NSW Patient Transport Staff from January 21, 2021.”
Sites deemed “special health accommodation” are those where returned travellers who have tested positive for COVID-19 are looked after by medical staff.
The announcement comes a day before premiers and chief ministers will take part in a National Cabinet to discuss mutant UK strain of COVID-19 to discuss the threat posed by a mutant variant of the COVID-19 virus that has emerged in the United Kingdom.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the meeting had been called following a request from Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly and the national expert medical panel, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
State leaders will discuss a proposal to further strengthen the COVID-19 safety protocols for international travel, particularly in regards to the UK variant.
Several states dealing with hotel quarantine leaks
While Australia has done well to limit the community transmission of COVID-19, flaws in the system for Australians returning from overseas have plunged states, including NSW and Victoria, back into lockdown.
Professor Raina McIntyre from the Kirby Institute told 7.30 on Wednesday, flaws in the hotel quarantine system could lead to an epidemic in Australia more severe than we have seen.
Western Australian authorities are now investigating two possible breaches of the state’s quarantine system.
Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19 was triggered by transmission of the virus from hotel quarantine into the community through poorly trained private security guards.
The hotel quarantine inquiry report found hotels also had poor cleaning products and training and guards made poor use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
In NSW, a 45-year-old van driver contracted the virus in December while transporting a family returning from overseas to a quarantine hotel.
The driver passed COVID-19 onto a colleague, who then visited a bottle shop in Berala, triggering the latest cluster in Sydney.
South Australian Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said poor ventilation at Adelaide’s quarantine hotel may have triggered the coronavirus cluster that sent the state into lockdown in November.
A review of that system did not identify any significant breaches of infection control.
Australians returning home bring UK variant of COVID-19
Fixing potential flaws in the hotel quarantine system now is crucial as Australians returning home are bringing back the more contagious variant of COVID-19, NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant said on Wednesday.
The new strain appears to be more contagious as it might increase the amount of virus coming out of your mouth or nose when you talk, cough or sneeze.
Scientists know the virus that causes COVID-19 is highly infectious and can be spread through the tiny particles in the air which accumulate in poorly ventilated settings.
So experts say it is vitally important that anyone who comes into contact with someone who might be infected — including patient and quarantine transport drivers — wear a properly-fitted N-95 medical mask.
NSW Health authorities said “strict infection control and prevention practices, including the appropriate use of PPE such as face masks and gloves, are in place at all points within the [returned traveller] program”.
But despite repeated requests by the ABC, health authorities have not specified exactly what kind of PPE patient drivers were wearing.
On Wednesday, the WA Government said it was investigating two possible breaches of PPE protocols.
One of the cases involves an ambulance officer who transported a COVID-19 patient to hospital.
The woman in her 80s arrived from the UK last week; further testing will determine if she has the new variant of the virus.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said the investigation involved whether one of the paramedics who transported her followed appropriate protocols.
“I’m advised it’s one that there are concerns about; no, I haven’t been given any excuses. When we learn what has occurred we’ll make that public,” he said.
‘No single action can make it totally safe’
While some experts have called for everyone getting on a plane to Australia to be tested for COVID-19, such a measure may not have prevented the current outbreak in NSW or the previous one in Victoria.
“Adding testing or prior-to-departure screening, I think, is useful in some circumstances,” Dr Chant said.
“No single action can make it totally safe. That’s why we have the quarantine period for … 14 days. We do know in-flight transmission is a risk. And we are concerned when people are transiting through various hubs.”
Victoria has recently begun testing all international flight crew for the virus when they return — something NSW is also looking to introduce.
“We’ll progressively look at testing [airline crew]. I have reached out to Qantas and Qantas have indicated they’re going to regularly test their flight crew staff,” Dr Chant said.
She added overseas flight crew were required to “basically be in hotel quarantine with limited exemption for staff that may be residents in NSW”.
“We’ve also ensured that the flight crew cannot reposition or travel on any domestic legs.”
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People wait to get tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Rafik Hariri University Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
January 4, 2021
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon announced a full lockdown for three weeks, including a night curfew, to stem a rise in COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals in a country already facing financial meltdown.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the lockdown would start on Thursday and run until Feb. 1, with further details on Tuesday on which sectors would be exempt.
The lockdown will include a curfew from 6 pm to 5 am.
“It has become clear that the pandemic challenge has reached a stage that is seriously threatening Lebanese lives as hospitals are not capable of providing beds,” Hasan told reporters after a meeting of the ministerial committee on COVID-19.
Lebanon registered 2,870 new infections on Sunday, bringing its total to 189,278 cases and 1,486 deaths since Feb. 21.
The new lockdown comes amid concerns over soaring unemployment, inflation and poverty.
Lebanon is facing a devastating financial crisis that has crashed the currency, paralysed banks, and frozen savers out of their deposits. Medical supplies have dwindled as dollars have grown scarce.
Intensive care units had previously reached critical capacity over the summer as the virus spread after a massive explosion at the docks wrecked swathes of Beirut, killed 200 people and destroyed several hospitals.
Adherence to social distancing and other preventive measures has been lax and there are now fears of a significant rise in cases after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
“It is a big problem. In the next ten days it will be very difficult and we are expecting death rates to increase as infections rise,” Mahmoud Hassoun, head of the critical care unit at Rafik Hariri hospital, told Reuters.
“We are nearly full now and we haven’t even seen the effect of the holiday period yet.”
(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Maha El Dahan and Alaa Kanaan; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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As authorities in some states declare coronavirus to have been “virtually eliminated”, control efforts have switched focus to bolstering one of the remaining frontlines: hotel quarantine.
In recent days, both South Australia and Victoria have begun looking into improving ventilation after recent cases — including a cluster that forced SA into lockdown — were linked to medi-hotels.
Here’s a breakdown of what authorities believe happened in Adelaide.
How did it spread via ventilation?
Airflow inside buildings had not always received as much attention as other risk factors, such as uncovered coughing and sneezing.
But that’s now changed in South Australia, after health authorities found the first case in the recent Parafield cluster was likely a security guard sitting in a medi-hotel corridor outside the rooms of coronavirus-infected returned travellers.
The state’s Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier, has said that authorities would not be able to “definitively” prove when transmission occurred, but that the theory gives them important information moving forward.
“One important one is to look at how we do the security,” Professor Spurrier said.
“We’re trialling different models of security, so rather than have somebody sit there, we’re having roving security guards, and we’re looking at other ways of maximising the CCTV footage.”
Why is ventilation important?
Epidemiologist and head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Professor Nancy Baxter, said the focus was on droplets at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
She explained droplets as “bigger particles that, when we sneeze or cough, are released and they don’t travel very far, because they’re heavier”.
“But definitely some of the transmission of COVID-19 is because it becomes airborne,” Professor Baxter said.
“It’s not a big fat droplet that drops down quickly, it’s something that goes in the air and stays in the air.
“If there’s no way for those particles to be eliminated, they’re going to stay in the air a long time, potentially exposing people.
University of Melbourne environmental scientist Robyn Schofield said there were no indoor air quality standards across Australia, except for hospitals — presenting a problem for medi-hotels.
Dr Schofield said the hotels were “subject to the scrutiny that you would apply to a hospital” without being built for that purpose.
“These hotels are old buildings and yet we’re asking of them something more challenging,” she said.
“Scientists have not been widely consulted on this.
“There are a number of risk calculations. You can calculate risk depending on the volume of your room, the number of occupants, temperature and relative humidity.
“Depending on how infectious the person is — that plays a role.”
How is ventilation different from air conditioning?
Although the pair are often confused, there is a key difference between air conditioning and ventilation.
According to Professor Spurrier, the ventilation in hotel corridors “is not particularly good”.
“Of course you can understand that because there’s not many people that sit in the corridors of hotels, so you don’t put a great deal of effort into air conditioning those spaces,” she said.
“We’re not saying we think this has come through the air-conditioning, it’s all about the ventilation.
Dr Schofield said that outside air is considered “the best sort of ventilation we have”.
“Outside air is the best. For inside, a hospital setting is aiming for about six air changes so the air is turning over about every 10 minutes, so six air changes per hour,” she said.
“Coronavirus stays in the air as airborne aerosol. When you don’t refresh it, it just builds up.
“You’ve got to be exposed to a certain amount and depending on how long you spend in that space, or how concentrated it is, both of those things will lead to increased risk.”
Can medi-hotels be improved?
Professor Baxter believes Australian states and territories can strengthen their hotel quarantine systems by improving ventilation.
“We don’t have so many people in hotel quarantine that we can’t look at the hotels people are housed in to see how well they’re ventilated,” she said.
“If you have a balcony in your room it means you have a door that you can open.
“If you have a door that you can open, de facto, you can improve your ventilation.”
She also believes a culture of blaming hotel workers needs to stop.
“What we all need to understand is that these hotels are a constant source of risk to us in Australia in terms of transmission of COVID-19, that the vector of transmission will be the workers at these hotels, but it’s not their fault,” she said.
“What we need to do is to make sure that they’re protected and we’re protected by having the best understanding of transmission.
She also said those workers — who are “putting their lives and the lives of their family on the line” — should be vaccinated against COVID-19 before anyone else in the country.
Meanwhile, authorities in South Australia have begun to implement changes after the latest outbreak.
“We had a comprehensive review of ventilation, so not just the air-conditioning but how much air gets exchanged in our medi-hotels,” Professor Spurrier said on Tuesday.
“We are now testing our medi-hotel staff on a seven-day basis and we’re looking at whether or not we can increase the frequency of that.
“It is very important not just for South Australians but everybody in Australia and all of the other states to learn from our experiences.”
Vietnam reported one case on Saturday, which authorities detected in a woman quarantined after recent travel from the United Kingdom. Vietnam has banned nearly all international travel, but it is providing repatriation flights for citizens stranded in Britain.
Turkey reported Friday its first 15 cases of the strain, found in recent travellers from the UK, leading Turkish authorities to issue a temporary ban on entries from the there. Turkey, along with many other countries, suspended flights between the United Kingdom in late December.
At least three US states have identified cases of the variant. Public health officials, however, say it is likely already spreading undetected due to limited genetic sequencing of the coronavirus in the United States.
The United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, though widespread transmission of the fast-spreading form of the virus would likely lead to even larger outbreaks, putting further strain on the country’s already overwhelmed health-care system.
In recent weeks British authorities have imposed strict lockdowns on millions of people as the variant, first documented in late September, has led to surges in infections. So far, scientists do not think that the fast-spreading form of the virus is more deadly or vaccine resistant.
As global infections continue to rapidly rise, Ireland has recently gone from having the European Union’s lowest per capita rate of cases to the fastest growing.
“The virus is absolutely rampant now in the community,” the CEO of Ireland’s health services Paul Reid said Friday. “Everybody is at extreme risk of contracting the virus.”
But Philip Nolan, the head of Ireland’s COVID-19 modelling group, told national news broadcaster RTE on Saturday that the UK. variant represented between 5 per cent and 17 per cent of current cases, according to the latest available genetic analysis.
While Nolan predicted new infections would continue to increase as the variant spreads, he attributed the current surge to socialising over the Christmas holiday.
“Right now we believe the UK variant is here at a relatively low level, even with that small sample,” he said. “We saw an even more intense level of socialisation and viral transmission over Christmas than we might have expected and that’s what’s leading us to the really precarious position we’re in now.”
The bleak return to lockdowns in many communities across the globe comes in sharp contrast to the hopeful rollout of vaccines programs in some countries.
Israel has provided the first of two coronavirus vaccine shots to more than a million of its citizens, the highest rate in the world since beginning its efforts in late December. The United States, in contrast, vaccinated some 2.8 million people by December 30, falling far short of President Trump’s pledge to inoculate 20 million people by the years end.
Despite widespread expectations that vaccines will turn the tide of the pandemic, it will still take weeks for the initial shots to kick in and months before vaccines will likely become available for a majority of the world’s communities and countries, in particular poorer ones. Adding to concerns, significant percentages of many populations have reported hesitations around injecting the fast-tracked vaccines, while health experts worry about the impact of disinformation campaigns dissuading the public from taking it.
As the United Kingdom tries to contain the variant, health authorities have also deviated some from initial inoculation plans.
On Wednesday, British health officials said they would prioritise giving more people the first shot to ensure wider, partial protection from the virus, and in turn delay providing the second injection, only after which is the vaccine is most effective.
Mandatory mask restrictions are in place for many venues across Greater Sydney as NSW works to contain COVID-19 outbreaks while avoiding harsh lockdown measures.
The state reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, five of which from western and southwestern Sydney and linked to the Berala cluster.
“What we want to do is make sure we’re not in a situation where we are restricting people’s ability to go about their business,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Saturday.
“In fact, we want to increase economic activity, not diminish economic activity, and mask-wearing in these settings will ensure we have the confidence to do that.”
From midnight, masks became mandatory in shopping centres, on public transport, in places of worship, hair and beauty premises and entertainment venues such as cinemas.
All hospitality staff are also required to wear one, with anyone disobeying the health order to be fined $200 from Monday.
Children under 12 and those with specific health disorders are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where possible.
A pedestrian is seen wearing a face mask at Darling Harbour in Sydney on 4 August, 2020.
The Australian Medical Association, which has long been calling for the move, said it was an important decision.
“This is … an acknowledgment that wearing face masks is one of our simplest weapons against the spread of coronavirus,” AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said.
Stay-at-home orders will continue for residents north of the Narrabeen Bridge in the northern beaches until at least 9 January, while people in the southern half of the region will have the same restrictions as the rest of Greater Sydney.
Restrictions imposed on businesses and gatherings from midnight include gym classes reduced to 30 people and places of worship and funerals limited to one person per four square metres, and up to a maximum of 100 people per separate area.
Outdoor performances and protests are reduced to 500 people and controlled outdoor seated events reduced to 2000.
However Ms Berejiklian has defended allowing the Australia-India Test match to be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground from 7 January.
At least 20,000 people are expected to attend the match each day.
The premier said health officials, police and event organisers would do a walk-through to go over the event’s COVID-safe plan, and NSW Health would make judgements whether any adjustments are needed.
“We appreciate what people might say about us continuing to hold those events, but also consider the thousands of jobs it keeps, consider the sense of normality it gives us”, Ms Berejiklian said.
The new restrictions do not affect regional NSW, only Greater Sydney, but Ms Berejiklian urged all residents and visitors across the state to “practise COVID safe behaviours and get tested even if symptoms are mild”.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.
New South Wales has recorded three new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours.
All three are from Sydney’s western suburbs and two are from the same household.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has thanked the more than 32,000 people who came forward for testing.
“We are really keen to make sure that everybody in the Greystanes, Berala, Auburn and Lidcombe areas comes forward to get testing even if it is the mildest of symptoms,” Ms Berejiklian said.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said none of the three new cases were linked to the Avalon cluster on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
“The source of the two of these cases, a man in his 40s and a man in his 20s, are under investigation and the third case, a man in his 20s, is a close household contact of one of the cases,” Dr Chant said.
Ms Berejiklian also announced news of additional cases from Victoria.
“It has also come to our attention literally in the last few minutes that there were a couple of cases from Victoria that came in two venues in Bega and the Bermagui areas,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“We understand that there were two cases from Victoria that came up and have gone to venues and events in Bermagui.
“The strong message from us is to be on high alert, come forward and get tested with the mildest of symptoms.”
NSW Health is due to update its list of venues this morning.
Missing link between clusters
Dr Chant also revealed a so-called missing link between the Croydon cluster, in Sydney’s Inner West, and Wollongong.
“Investigations have revealed that a case from the Croydon cluster and a case from the Wollongong cluster both attended the Swallowed Anchor restaurant in Wollongong on the 19 December … there may have been a transmission event at that venue,” she said.
“This was before either the case from Croydon cluster or the case from Wollongong had their infection, and what we’re looking at is whether they were both infected at that time and date, so this is a triangulation piece.
“It may turn out to not be case but for the abundant caution, everyone at that venue on the 19th of December needs to immediately get tested and isolate.
“Genomic testing had now proven a link between the Avalon, Croydon and Wollongong clusters, she said.
Dr Chant pleaded for people across Wollongong, Sydney’s west and southern NSW to come forward for testing.
The two positive travellers from Victoria visited the Great Southern Hotel at Eden on December 30.
“We understand that there may be a lot of visitors who have travelled to that part over the festive season.”
Sydney restrictions update
Ms Berejiklian says the government would be “adjusting the settings” in relations to restrictions across Sydney.
“I made that very clear. Especially the southern side of the Northern Beaches will feel some relief tomorrow. We’ll be making announcements in that regard. We will still have in place the main stay-at-home provisions for the northern zone until the of January,” she said.
“Given the date we have identified is getting longer and longer, it gives us greater heart that most if not all about community transmission has really been stomped out in that region.
“Once you know you have got that and put that to bed, you can obviously focus all your resources into the growing number of cases in Western Sydney.
“I can confirm that our local members and our treasurer has also been engaging with the chambers of commerce in the Northern Beaches to see what support the New South Wales government can consider and we are certainly considering our options in that regard.”
The premier said no restrictions would be put into place banning people in NSW from travelling to regional areas.
“So long as people are COVID safe…we’re not going to stop people from visiting different parts of the state but we do ask people to be extra careful,” she said.
“We do ask people to take extra precautions.
“The direction is reduce your mobility, be extra safe, but we are not putting on any further restrictions at this stage unless the health advice changes.”
Ms Berejiklian said she understood the actions taken to block NSW residents from entry.
“The strategy we have taken is how can we maintain public health and safety without putting unnecessary stress on our citizens and that is a fine balance we have been adopting in New South Wales and when the situation in Victoria was quite severe some months ago, we waited until Victorian cases were consistently above 120 before we closed our border and that is the decision we took,” she said.
“I don’t begrudge other state premiers for taking the same decision.”
But, she said, “I don’t think at this stage closing the border between New South Wales and Victoria is a good use of resources”.
The premier also hinted at relief for struggling businesses in the Northern Beaches.
NSW Police has thanked the community for largely obeying coronavirus restrictions as they welcomed in the New Year.
“Policeman are generally quite pleased with the way that the operation to see in the New Year was conducted, the behaviour by and large was very good across the board and people did adhere to our request to restrict their travel and not come into the CBD,” Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said.
“The CBD area itself was as quiet as we will ever see it and our marine area command estimate that on the harbour there was approximately 20 per cent of the vessels that we would normally see during a New Year’s Eve operation.
“But outside the CBD and in the suburbs, police were kept busy, he said.
“They attended a lot of residential premises following up reports of breaches but by and large, beyond that, a lot of those reports were actually false and when they did have to speak to residents, they abided by the requests of police.”
The riot squad was called in to break up large crowds watching an illegal fireworks display in Villawood, activity that left police “a little disappointed”.
Countries such as the United Kingdom are significantly shortening their coronavirus quarantine requirements — but Australia is not planning to do the same, at least for now.
Instead, Australian health authorities have banked on a more wary approach to help safeguard against community transmission.
Travellers entering Australia are currently required to quarantine for 14 days in a government-allocated hotel or other designated accommodation, regardless of whether they have tested positive for COVID-19.
Restrictions on travel between states have been reimposed amid the new Sydney cluster — with NSW travellers into WA again required to isolate as the Northern Territory declares the Northern Beaches a “hotspot”.
Queensland health officials have also imposed fresh restrictions, requiring anyone who had been to the Northern Beaches since last Friday to get tested and isolate in their home for 14 days from the date they left the area.
But why is a fortnight the basic standard in Australia?
It’s all about caution
Quarantining people who may have been exposed to COVID–19 has been recognised around the world as a critical measure to help stop the spread of the virus.
Scientific evidence has shown that a substantial portion of infected people never develop symptoms but can still transmit the virus.
International arrivals in Australia are currently required to quarantine, unless they are arriving from a designated safe “green zone” country (only New Zealand for now) or have been approved for a quarantine exemption.
The two-week quarantine period is based on scientific knowledge about the median incubation period for COVID–19, which is between 4.9 and seven days, according to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).
However, some people can show symptoms as early as day one or as late as day 14.
It is a cautious approach, as infection control expert Professor Marilyn Cruickshank from the University of Technology Sydney explained.
“It’s quite a long time, but it was really just put in place to cover all events and likely circumstances.”
Asymptomatic infections are a major complicating factor.
“We’ve seen numerous occasions of that — people spreading the infection in hospitals where people have had no symptoms and yet have been able to spread the virus to other people,” Professor Cruickshank said.
“So we need to make sure that people are in a position where they can’t infect anybody if they do become infected.”
What are other countries doing?
The UK recently reduced its quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days based on a review of scientific evidence.
The UK’s so-called “test to release” scheme has also come into effect, allowing international travellers to pay for a private test after five full days, which, if negative, could see them released 24 to 48 hours later.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States revised its guidelines too, saying it would be an “acceptable alternative” for quarantine to end after 10 days without testing if there are no symptoms — and after seven days if there is a negative test.
It calculated the “residual post-quarantine transmission risk” at “about 1 per cent with an upper limit of about 10 per cent” for release after 10 days, with a five to 12 per cent risk after seven days.
“In both cases, additional criteria (e.g. continued symptom monitoring and masking through day 14) must be met,” it said.
The CDC said its recommendation of a 14-day quarantine period was based on estimates “of the upper bounds of the COVID–19 incubation period” and that reducing it may increase community compliance.
“Any quarantine shorter than 14 days balances reduced burden against a small possibility of increasing the spread of the virus,” it said.
Could it change here?
Australia’s position is very different to places like the UK and the US.
Despite the current outbreak in NSW, community transmission of COVID–19 has been well controlled in Australia so far.
But that means the risks of allowing an infected person into the community could be different than in countries where the virus is already spreading out of control.
Professor Cruickshank believes that rapid testing can be used in some circumstances to safely reduce the quarantine period in Australia, provided social distancing and other important hygiene measures, including masks, are maintained.
“As more people come back to Australia from overseas, the risk is going to become higher that we are likely to see some outbreaks, so we still need to have the quarantine,” Professor Cruickshank said.
“But I do think that we could look at ways of perhaps relaxing it and shortening it.
“I think we could do that quite safely.”
However, the Federal Government is not entertaining the idea of a relaxation of quarantine rules in Australia.
“Studies that propose a reduced time only do so on the provision of not increasing traveller volumes. Australia is committed to bringing Australians home,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health said.
“The UK and US have substantial transmission of disease in the community and another imported case makes minimal difference to community transmission.
The Federal Government said routine testing of workers in hotel quarantine facilities would help tighten the control of the spread.
What’s it like in hotel quarantine?
Nathan McBain recently returned to Australia after living and working in the US for five years, and started his quarantine in a hotel in Sydney.
“There are no open windows, there is no fresh air and you cannot leave the room at all,” he said.
“It is very much — in mind and in physicality — a cell with a view.”
Despite not being able to spend time outside the walls of his small room, Mr McBain has managed to keep up his regime of doing 10,000 steps every day by pacing back and forth.
Though opportunities for human interaction are very low, there have been some surprising expressions of community spirit in his hotel.
“It’s amazing the little community bubbles you find of people going through the same experience — at five o’clock there’s a wave: everyone tries to wave to each other at 5:00pm from their windows.”
He said he has concerns about people’s mental health while in isolation.
“I don’t think … thought has been put into the actual wellbeing of people in quarantine for 14 days,” he said.
But while reducing his time in quarantine would be an appealing thought, Mr McBain said he accepted the current situation.