News National More Australians are flying home to endure quarantine. But it’s working

More Australians are flying home to endure quarantine. But it’s working

Medical stethoscope and travel documents on wood background
Mandatory hotel quarantine for overseas travellers is helping to control the coronavirus, despite some outbreaks. Photo: Getty
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Another 800 Australians are on their way home from South America, India and Indonesia, and chances are, some will have the coronavirus.

But despite a spike in hotel cases, the quarantine system is working.

Since March 20, when the federal government officially sealed the country’s borders to try to contain the spread of COVID-19, more than 8000 travellers have flown into Australia.

Most of the arrivals were Australian citizens or permanent residents returning home, though some were foreign travellers granted special exemptions for compassionate or compelling reasons.

In the coming week, one planeload of Australians will fly into Adelaide from South America, along with two more flights from India and a defence contingent from Indonesia.

“There will be a strict regime in place to ensure that they are properly processed at the airport, loaded onto buses, conveyed to a supervised quarantine location where they’ll undergo health checks,” SA Police commissioner Grant Stevens said on Tuesday.

Yet despite most international arrivals being forced to undergo 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine, coronavirus cases have mysteriously emerged among travellers, security guards and hotel workers.

On Monday, the cluster at the Stamford Plaza hotel in Melbourne’s CBD increased to 14 after two further security guards were confirmed to have contracted the virus.

Investigations into potential sources of transmission, testing of staff and follow-ups of close contacts are under way.

On Saturday, the NSW health department confirmed another case was a traveller in hotel quarantine.

Since the government’s mandatory quarantine policy was implemented nearly three months ago, tens of thousands of travellers have been taken by police or military escort to hotels.

But how does the system stack up?

And is enough being done to protect passengers from other travellers who might be infectious on the way?

Hitting the tarmac

The moment an international traveller lands in Australia, they are immediately screened by health officials.

After screening, they are not allowed to exit through the arrivals hall like they normally would before the coronavirus pandemic, nor are they allowed to take a taxi or an Uber home.

Instead, they are escorted directly from the tarmac by police to a coach, which then takes them straight to the hotel.

Returned traveller Patrick Zippel, 28, said he would be shocked if any arrivals had caught the coronavirus on their way from Melbourne Airport to the hotels given the “huge social distancing measures in place”.

“We were given a high-grade mask before we jumped on the bus, and hand sanitiser and a little lunch box to take with us,” he said.

“All the luggage sections were taped off, and every second seat was taped off so everyone was forced to sit rows apart.”

He said police officers escorted passengers onto the bus at the tarmac to ensure all the passengers complied with social distancing.

“It was pretty stringent,” Mr Zippel said.

“There was no room for transmission there.”