WA premier Mark McGowan has slammed the Federal Government for failing to provide better alternatives to hotel quarantine as his state battles an outbreak linked to travellers from India.
Mr McGowan said it was “nuts” and he was “getting to the end of my tether” because CBD hotels were not fit for purpose to contain infected people during a pandemic.
His comments come as doctors warn Australians will be forced to yo-yo in and out of lockdowns until the federal government accelerates its vaccination program.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA), and other health authorities, said further lockdowns were inevitable because of Australia’s flawed hotel quarantine system.
“If Australia wants to avoid lockdown, we need to get vaccinated,” AMA president Omar Khorshid told The New Daily.
“The public health measure won’t disappear straight away but it is our pathway out of lockdowns,” Dr Khorshid said.
At midnight on Friday, Perth and the adjoining Peel region entered a snap three-day lockdown after the coronavirus spread through the corridors of the Mercure quarantine hotel, infecting a man who was staying across the hall from a couple recently returned from India.
The man tested negative before he left hotel quarantine, lingered in Perth for a couple of days and then flew to Melbourne.
The federal government issued a swift rebuke to Mr McGowan saying states and territories had agreed more than a year ago to manage hotel quarantine because they determined quarantine under their health orders.
“As the premier has been advised, and as health, defence and border force officials have detailed to the parliament, defence bases and immigration centres are unsuitable for quarantining returning Australians,” a spokesperson said.
Second Perth case
As of late Saturday, Western Australia had recorded one new community case of COVID-19. That person presented for a coronavirus test on Friday after visiting one of the locations where the initial positive case had been.
Australia’s vaccine rollout was never going to be done within a time frame that would have prevented WA’s current lockdown – but it has still been too slow, Dr Khorshid said.
“The job of vaccinating aged-care workers, disability-care workers and quarantine workers has been slower than we would have liked,” he said.
“And we’re very concerned not enough has been done in the hotel quarantine system to make it as safe as can be.”
In Victoria, health officials have been tracking down passengers on Wednesday’s flight and their close contacts.
The state’s COVID-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, said four Victorian household contacts of the positive case had tested negative and the “priority” was finding and testing fellow passengers on his flight from Perth.
“It is very important that anybody who is associated with Flight 778 on Wednesday completes the 14-day isolation period and goes and gets tested, [and stays in quarantine] even when they return negative results,” Mr Weimar said
‘Not fit for purpose’
University of NSW infectious disease expert Bill Bowtell said the hotel quarantine system was “not fit for the purpose we want it to perform”.
“The hotels were never built to be quarantine facilities,” Adjunct Professor Bowtell said.
“The most recent example is the 14th [outbreak] since the end of last year. It has become apparent that no matter how well people think they’ve organised it, there are deficiencies.
“We have a hotel system that isn’t good enough, an unvaccinated population – bit by bit we’re building up the potential for a serious problem.”
Director of infectious diseases at the University of Queensland Paul Griffin said even with tweaks there was no way to make hotel quarantine completely risk-free, but that vaccinating more people will help.
“Our reliance on harsher measures, like lockdowns, should definitely be reduced with vaccine coverage,” Associate Professor Griffin said.
The road ahead
Fewer than 1.8 million doses of vaccine have been administered to Australia’s more than 25 million residents, and some recent estimates suggest it could take until 2023 for the entire population to get a jab.
“There’s a supply issue. That is is still a factor, so even if we had everything right from a logistics point of view, we are limited in supply,” Associate Professor Griffin said.
“There’s some public apprehension and I think there is an issue with messaging and transparency. “
Still, he is optimistic:
“While the rollout continues we’ll rely on things like lockdowns, but I would like to think it will take less than a year with everyone working to get it done.”