Thousands of people flying into Australia have begun being shuttled to makeshift quarantine facilities across the country as Australia turns to law-and-order to fight the novel coronavirus.
With two-thirds of the country’s 3635 cases from or closely linked to overseas travellers, vacant hotels and other accommodation services are being used to ensure no more travellers have a chance to spread the disease.
NSW Police urged friends and families to stay away from Sydney Airport, saying those being quarantined would not be able to see or communicate with their loved ones.
Returned travellers will live out their 14 days of quarantine in state-funded hotel rooms, with doors guarded by state police, defence personnel or private security guards.
In Sydney alone, 3000 people are expected to land on Sunday.
“We will treat these people with absolute respect and dignity but we will need their support,” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.
“The 14 days, I am sure, will be a challenge for them and perhaps the food is not up to standard or they feel that the bed is not as comfortable as their own.
“They need to understand that we are trying to protect the community of NSW.”
Overseas arrivals have sharply declined in Brisbane, with health minister Steven Miles saying only 1047 arrived on Friday down from about 7000 just a week prior.
Confirmed cases of coronavirus in Queensland reached 625 with the majority people who had returned from overseas.
Deputy federal chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the compulsory quarantine was supported by the “very best” medical evidence.
“Realistically, a vaccine for the coronavirus is many months away. In the meantime, Australians can be reassured we are constantly monitoring COVID-19 developments – both domestically and abroad – and adapting what we do to minimise its spread,” Dr Kelly said in an opinion piece released on Saturday.
He said that a “blanket lockdown” hadn’t been implemented in Australia because “unlike countries such as Italy, Spain and Iran, and cities such as Wuhan in China, we have remained ahead of the curve”.
Meanwhile, private and non-profit hospitals are calling for funding certainty after bans on surgery left them laying off staff.
The doctors union also called on government to move urgent and semi-urgent medical care services into private hospitals to free up public hospital capacity for escalating COVID-19 admissions.
The Australian Medical Association also wants governments to reduce barriers to access of surgical masks and other personal protection equipment for hospital workers and other primary carers.
“Diminishing PPE is a key health workforce challenge that needs to be solved for our healthcare system to keep working. PPE supply must be at the heart of all health sector planning,” AMA vice-president Chris Zappala said.
Meanwhile, all Australians will be able to consult their GP over the phone and access new coronavirus-specific mental health support under a $1.1 billion package.
The Morrison government is expanding Medicare subsidies for telehealth to the entire population, giving more money to domestic violence and mental health support services, and providing $200 million to charities and community organisations who give emergency relief, such as food banks, and financial counselling.
Fourteen people have died from coronavirus in Australia, including four from one Sydney nursing home.