Shocking new analysis has revealed just how far from “fit for purpose” Australia’s hotel quarantine system really is.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne have found that for every 204 Covid-19 infected travellers that have undergone their mandatory quarantine in Australia there has been one leak.
There have been 21 “failures” in Australia’s hotel quarantine system between April 2020 and June 2021, including eight in NSW, five in Victoria, three in Queensland, three in Western Australia, and two in South Australia.
Many have prompted snap, or extended lockdowns in major cities.
The findings, published in an article for The Conversation, comes as Victoria enters its second week of lockdown, after the virus leaked from an Adelaide hotel into the Melbourne community.
Researchers estimate the current outbreak in Victoria could have economic impacts to the tune of $1b.
That amount of money, they say, could have built two or more dedicated new facilities that could better protect the country.
Driss Ait Ouakrim, Ameera Katar and Tony Blakely from the University of Melbourne have questioned whether the current hotel-based quarantine system is as “fit for purpose” as federal government officials say it is.
They have argued that it is not, in fact, “serving Australia very well”.
The researchers analysed outbreaks from hotels in Australia and New Zealand, and found there were 4.9 failures per 1000 SARS-CoV-2 positive cases in quarantine – or one failure per 204 infected travellers.
“Since April 2020, on average 305 infected travellers arrived in Australia each month, so that is 1.5 expected outbreaks per month,” the researchers said.
“This doesn’t sound like a system that is 99.99 per cent effective.
The trio warned that Australia’s quarantine system was supposed to be “our first and most important line of defence against COVID-19”.
“If it’s not improved, the risk of outbreaks will increase,” they said.
In order to improve the system, the researchers say travel needs to be capped or “temporarily suspended” from high risk areas and that adequate, purpose-built quarantine facilities should be established.
“Every state and territory should be equipped with Howard Spring-style facilities, with outdoor facing cabins with tree-flowing air,” they said.
“These facilities could be used in priority for travellers coming from high-risk countries.
“This won’t reduce the risk of leaks to zero, although we have not yet seen any leakage out of Howard Springs.”
The Victorian government recently announced a project to build a 3000 bed facility for returning travellers, which the federal government has supported.
The Queensland government has been engaged in an ongoing tit-for-tat with the Morrison government for months over plans to build a dedicated facility 90 minutes west of Brisbane, while the WA Premier has proposed using Christmas Island to house returned travellers.
Speaking to ABC Radio on Thursday morning, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there was a push from almost all states for regional quarantine.
“Our hotels are not meant to stop infectious diseases,” she said.
“The federal government has had over a year to establish dedicated facilities.
“Howard Springs works well, and I commend them for that.
“(These proposed facilities) would allow the east coast to open up quickly and we would not have lockdowns.”
Ms Palaszczuk and her government say the proposal for a quarantine facility in Toowoomba remains on the table, but is continuing to pressure the Prime Minister to allow flights to land in the regional city.
“Our officials are working continuously on this. No one has stopped talking her, it’s still active,” she said.