A series of reports have emerged on failures with Australia’s quarantine systems, which have left the nation exposed to importing COVID-19 into the community.
Some travelers have been left shocked by lax processes pertaining to Sydney’s hotel quarantine:
Australians returning from overseas have described weaknesses in Sydney’s hotel quarantine system which they fear could contribute to the spread of coronavirus.
… many returned travellers who have recently been through the quarantine system say they would not be surprised by a breach of the system…
Kashi Somers, who returned to Sydney from New York City in early November, felt compelled to write to the NSW Health department after being “shocked” that the driver of her bus from the airport to the hotel was not wearing a mask.
In what she described as an “obvious and clear” potential for transmission, Somers said the unmasked driver was on the crowded bus for “at least two hours” while passengers were loaded on, driven to the Marriott hotel and began checking in.
“While we were driving I heard him talking on the phone [and] he was saying ‘oh yeah the bus has to get cleaned and then I’ll be home’,” Somers said.
“I remember thinking, ‘What? What does he mean he’s going home?’ He’s not wearing a mask, he’s crowded in here with us, he’s literally one of the only people who is a way for Covid to get into the population. I just remember thinking I don’t understand what the process is here. Why isn’t he staying here at the hotel with us?”
Returning from the US, Somers also described a jarring lack of concern among the officials she encountered while navigating the system, including ADF members incorrectly wearing masks…
That experience was echoed by Noelle Faulkner, who returned to Sydney from the UK in November. Faulkner described the process of getting to the hotel from the airport as “pretty lax”.
The bigger concern appears to be the lax rules surrounding international flight crew.
A Qantas crew member that arrived in Darwin from Paris and then flew to Sydney without being tested later tested positive for the virus, raising concerns around community transmission risks:
New South Wales, Northern Territory and federal health authorities are working with Qantas to understand how the man, who landed in Darwin on 17 December after working on a repatriation flight from Paris, became infected.
The case has again drawn attention to the relaxed rules for aircrews arriving in Australia, as officials acknowledged he was not required to undergo testing for coronavirus at any stage of his journey.
Under the special health provisions extended to Australian flight crew workers, the man was allowed to leave the overseas flight, use a private car to go to a regular, non-quarantine hotel in Darwin, where he spent one night before flying on the QF841 Darwin to Sydney service on 18 December.
Three Garuda Indonesia pilots also took an Uber to hotel quarantine after touching down in Melbourne:
Three Garuda Indonesia pilots took an Uber from Melbourne Airport to a local hotel immediately after arriving on a flight from Jakarta, potentially risking the health of Victorians as they travelled outside official channels to hotel quarantine…
The Uber driver who picked up the pilots told The New Daily he sounded the alarm with the Victorian government after he realised the pilots had come directly from overseas…
The Uber driver, who did not wish to be named, said it felt as though the state government was leaving the airline crew to their own devices and “just relying on them to follow the rules”.
“It seemed really strange,” he said…
The New Daily understands that new federal quarantine regulations for airline crews and technicians employed by international carriers came into effect at noon on Wednesday, December 23.
These are alarming reports and probably the tip of the iceberg.
With Australia almost eliminating local transmission of the virus, the only pathway for COVID-19 outbreaks is via importation from abroad via quarantine breaches. This has occurred in Sydney, throwing the Christmas plans of millions into disarray and resulting in the closure of domestic borders just as the tourism industry was finding its feet.
Effective quarantine is Australia’s number one defence against the virus. It is Australia’s number one risk area and where the greatest emphasis and resources from our governments must be placed. No other COVID-19 mitigation measure comes close to having an robust quarantine system.
Australia’s governments simply must get quarantine arrangements right if we are to avoid further damaging virus outbreaks. They cannot continue to cut corners and make the same lazy mistakes.
The federal government must also take the lead and stop passing responsibility to the states.