Within the past week, at least six Australians returned home uninfected only to acquire the coronavirus while undergoing quarantine in hotels in Sydney and Perth.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has ruled out the idea of building new Covid-19 quarantine cites. These centres would replace the hotels that have been used so far. He says that the solution to this problem “has been staring us in the face” in the form of purpose-built commonwealth facilities.
In an interview with ABC McGowan vowed that everything is being done to reduce the risk of another outbreak. This was following the weekend’s three-day lock-down in the Perth and Peel regions.
McGowan also stated that a purpose-built quarantine facility that could replace the troubled hotels would take years to build. He said that hopefully by then vaccinations would mean that the pandemic would no longer be an issue.
“I don’t want to go down the course of commissioning and building a facility that might be worth hundreds of millions of dollars if we’re not going to need it,” stated McGowan.
Hotels present many problems of their own. One traveller left a hotel after being in quarantine for 14 days and moved around Perth for five days before taking a flight to Melbourne, where he tested positive for Covid-19. This incident led to a three-day lock-down in Perth and Peel.
This is not the first incident of its kind either. A Covid case leaked from the Peppers Hotel in Adelaide in November too. In fact, there have been 16 leaks across Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth.
Most of these incidents were dealt with swiftly and led to low numbers of community cases of Covid-19. Some isolated incidents did lead to higher numbers. the Sydney leak in December led to the Avalon cluster, which infected 151 people. And even earlier in the pandemic the infection of staff within two Melbourne quarantine hotels led to the second wave of Coivd-19.
It is not that hotels are not doing their jobs as quarantine sites they are just under-prepared and not made for these types of incidents. Evidence has been pointing to airborne transmission as the cause for the majority of transmission within Australia’s hotel quarantine system. Currently the two main measures the prevent these issues, are improved ventilation and the wearing of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) by staff. These methods however have not been 100% effective.
In South Australia, the designated orange and red zones of hotels, staff must wear respiratory masks such as an N95 or a P2. In Victoria, all staff in open areas must wear an N95 mask and a face shield. In the other states, the staff is provided with surgical masks, which do not protect against the airborne spread as effectively as respiratory masks.
Since Covid-19 is tearing its way across the world, an increasing proportion of returned travellers will be infected. As of the 27th of April, there were 255 active cases nationwide in hotel quarantine.
Given the higher number of cases around the world and the currently slow roll-out of vaccines available, Australia will need supervised quarantine for a while to come, some estimate until 2023.
No matter how ill-equipped hotels are to manage to quarantine people from covid-19 they are still a better option than no quarantine at all. With policies only getting better on these hotels hopefully in the future, there will be no issues with outbreaks outside of these centres.