As the Australian state of Victoria enters its third day of a snap COVID-19 lockdown, the national medical association is calling for urgent changes to infection control in hotel quarantine. Australian travelers returning from overseas must go into isolation for at least 14 days on arrival, but doctors are worried that the airborne transmission of the virus is not being taken seriously enough.
Biosecurity is a growing concern for Australia’s hotel quarantine system after new and highly contagious variants of COVID-19 were detected among returned travelers.
A five-day lockdown imposed in Victoria state Friday was in response to a cluster of infections at a hotel at Melbourne airport. Infections were passed from passengers to staff, allowing the virus to spread into the community. The lockdown was ordered to give contact tracers enough time to track known associates of those who have tested positive to the virus.
Doctors, however, believe that ventilation and personal protective equipment for hotel workers needs to be urgently reviewed.
Chris Moy, the federal vice president of the Australian Medical Association, says bio-security controls need to be tightened.
“Quarantine is our first and most important line of defense. There have been holes punched in it, particularly with these new strains. It is not just droplets' spread, which is the big droplets which, you know, you just cough out. It just stays quite local, to this airborne spread where essentially COVID can be taken up as a mist and stay in the air, and therefore be far more infectious for a long period of time,” said Moy.
Victoria is in its third coronavirus lockdown since the pandemic began.
More citizens are being allowed to return to New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, from Monday, but the Victorian government has suggested that repatriation flights be heavily restricted to curb the spread of new virus variants.
State premier Daniel Andrews said Australia had to have a “cold, hard discussion” about reducing international arrivals.
His comments have caused anger and dismay among thousands of Australians stranded overseas.
Foreign nationals were banned from Australia last March, but citizens and permanent residents can return. They face mandatory quarantine on arrival and weekly quotas are limiting the number of travelers allowed home.
The government in Canberra has also announced it will stop quarantine-free travel for New Zealanders, after three COVID-19 cases were recorded in Auckland, which has been placed into a snap three-day lockdown.
Australia’s first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine has arrived, but federal authorities have conceded that its distribution across such a vast country would not be a flawless exercise. A mass inoculation program is due to begin by the end of the month.
Australia has recorded just under 29,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand has detected about 2,200 infections.