The nation’s peak medical lobby says there is no excuse for Australia to be using hotel quarantine to house returned travellers, more than a year into the pandemic.
After three days of unease and doubt, Perth and the Peel region has returned to relative normality on Tuesday, after a snap three-day lockdown ended at midnight.
The lockdown was triggered on Friday after a Victorian man tested positive to COVID-19 in Melbourne, almost a week after leaving hotel quarantine in Perth.
Genomic testing revealed the man had contracted the virus from another person at the Mercure Hotel.
Late last week it was confirmed he had passed the virus on to others in the community.
Hotel quarantine failures laid bare
Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller said the latest hotel quarantine failure again highlighted the system’s inadequacies.
“The problem is federal advisers have not yet properly acknowledged airborne spread of the disease,” he said.
“That’s how it’s getting around and that’s how it will get around in the community.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Monday said low COVID-19 case numbers in Australia showed hotel quarantine had been successful and did not need to be modified.
But Dr Miller said that argument was fanciful.
“It’s not a success to say tens of thousands of people have been through there, because most of those people could have gone straight home and they wouldn’t have infected anybody, because they never had COVID,” he said.
“The sign of success is, can it deal with everyone in there being COVID-positive?
“Clearly it can’t even deal with a few people.”
Air base touted as possible quarantine site
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has previously questioned why the Curtin Air Base near Derby could not be used as a quarantine site.
The federal government has said the air base was designed for shared accommodation and would be unsuitable.
Pearce RAAF Base has also been mooted as a potential quarantine site, due to its proximity to Perth.
Dr Miller said it was long overdue for governments to address the issue.
“In the long run we need a mining camp, to be put up somewhere near Perth so you have access to the airports and access to people to run it and to the healthcare facilities,” he said.
“Our miners do that all the time – we can get them up in a few months.
“It just takes the will of the governments to do that.
“I think both of the governments need to have their heads banged together and told to get on with it.”
While not commenting on specific location options, Dr Miller said the same mistakes would be repeated unless change occurred.
He said without trying other options soon, people would suffer.
“As a general member of the public, I don’t believe that it can’t be done,” he said.
“I think the reasons that it’s resisted are cost and a lack of appreciation that this virus is airborne.
“If you continue to do what we’re doing now you’re just going to repeat the same mistakes in a cruel experiment inside horrible hotels.”
Lockdown lifted but community remains wary
After two days of no further community transmission, Mr McGowan said most restrictions did not need to be extended.
“This is a fantastic result,” he said.
“The short three-day lockdown has done the job it was designed to do.
“It was a circuit-breaker we needed to limit community spread and keep our community healthy.”
But there is still a nervousness as many test results from people who have visited the growing list of exposure sites remain outstanding.
While people will now be able to move around more freely, some restrictions remain in place until Saturday.
Masks remain mandatory, except for children under 12 or during vigorous exercise.
Retail, entertainment and hospitality venues are required to adhere to a four-person-per-square-metre rule.
Indoor gyms, nightclubs, and the casino remain closed, while private gatherings are limited to 20 people.
Schools and childcare centres are reopening, with staff and secondary students required to wear masks.