Hotel quarantine arrangements are different in every state, and — as Australia found out this week — those small discrepancies can have big consequences.
Key points:The NSW Government has so far picked up the tab of over $50 million for at least 25,188 people in quarantineBut in the NT, however, travellers are required to pay the $2,500 hotel quarantine bill themselvesJustice Jennifer Coate AO will head an inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program
Victoria’s recent surge in coronavirus cases has been largely attributed to breaches in the quarantine system, after genomic testing linked many of the state’s recent infections back to private contractors working at two quarantine hotels.
It prompted Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to announce a probe into how the state’s quarantine system operated, and threw a spotlight on how hotel quarantine arrangements work around the country.
How does testing work in quarantine?
A mandatory 14-day quarantine period for travellers returning home from overseas is based on national guidelines, but how those 14 days play out varies across states.
A person who tests positive for coronavirus while in hotel quarantine doesn’t need to return a negative result before they’re allowed to leave, under the national guidelines
In NSW, every returned traveller must be tested at 10 days — in Victoria it’s day 11.
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However, mandatory testing was only introduced last weekend for NSW and at that time, testing was expected but never enforced.
A man who tested positive while in quarantine in Melbourne was allowed to fly to Sydney and later tested positive for COVID-19 after working two shifts at a Woolworths.
The man was deemed not to be infectious and NSW chief medical officer Kerry Chant said not all people who tested positive to coronavirus while in quarantine hotels had to stay longer than 14 days.
A testing blitz has begun in Melbourne’s coronavirus hotspots. June 27, 2020(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)
For people to be deemed non-infectious, it must be 10 days since the onset of symptoms and the person must have been symptom-free for three days.
In NT, mandatory testing has been in place since May 28 and involves testing in the first and last 72 hours of a person’s time in quarantine.
In Western Australia, people at the end of their 14-day quarantine period are required to pass another health screen before they can be released.
Queensland also follows a similar process.
How is Victoria set-up differently?
Like other states, Victoria has strict quarantine rules where the person is forbidden from leaving the accommodation unless there is an emergency situation or an exemption based on compassionate grounds.
But it was human error and alleged misconduct which has been the main cause for resurgence in COVID-19 cases in Victoria, according to Mr Andrews.
Victoria’s hotel quarantine arrangements are overseen by private security contractors.
In NSW, travellers with a fever or who are displaying COVID-19 symptoms are referred to a “Health Hotel”, managed by NSW Health.
Travellers who are well and have no symptoms are taken to hotels run by NSW Police.
Private security guards may assist, but NSW Health says they are all given infection control training.
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When the national cabinet established their hotel quarantine program, the Victorian Government mobilised security contracts within 24 hours, exempting them from a tender process “due to urgency”.
In many instances, those contractors employed subcontractors.
However, the union representing security workers said guards assigned to hotels did not receive adequate training.
Mr Andrews this week announced Justice Jennifer Coate AO will head an inquiry into the state’s hotel quarantine program, saying: “It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened.”
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