What pushed Australia’s hotel quarantine to brink?

Data obtained by The Daily Telegraph shows in the month to April 29, there were 469 cases of COVID-19 among returned travellers, including 210 from India, 27 from the US, 38 from PNG and three from the UK. This was a 46 per cent increase on the previous month, when there had been 320 cases, with a top of 55 infected people from PNG. In December, COVID-19 cases among overseas travellers had surged higher, with 332 infections, lead by 62 cases from the US.The spike in April was the basis for the medical advice behind banning travellers from India until May 15 under threat of fines or jail time. But based on the rate of infection in hotel quarantine, infectious disease expert Professor Peter Collignon said it was clear “fear” had dictated the decision to cut off India. NED-3714-India-Covid-Graphs“I don’t think it was overall a reasonable decision when you look at the success of hotel quarantine, even when there have been leaks,” he said. “I think a lot of people want zero risk, well the only way to have that is to wall off Australia for five years.”Prof Collignon said NSW had a proven capacity to deal with large volumes of returned travellers and further measures could have been implemented to manage the risk from India. “People working in airports, security and transport, in addition to being vaccinated could be wearing face shields over masks to protect their eyes … and could be more regularly tested for COVID-19,” he said. The federal government has argued a positive infection rate of above two per cent in hotel quarantine was too risky, but NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said that threshold was “not necessarily applicable” for the state. “At the moment I’m saying that we have special health accommodation (that) can accommodate a large number of individuals,” she said. India’s surging COVID pandemic also put pressure on Howard Springs quarantine facility, with 52 positive cases as of April 29. This included 47 people from two repatriation flights from April 15 and 17, which had a combined positive infection rate of 13.6 per cent and meant 84 other travellers were deemed “close contacts”. The facility has capacity to quarantine up to 850 people, which was due to be expanded to 2,000 from next month, raising questions about why the system could not cope with more than two per cent of its occupants having COVID-19. Eight crossbench MPs and Senators on Tuesday signed an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanding an end to the measures under the Biosecurity Act criminalising anyone travelling to Australia from India. They also asked the Australian Health Principal Protection Committee (AHPPC) to provide advice to parliament regarding the “suitability of permanent large-scale quarantine facilities for managing surge capacity”. “Howard Springs was identified as one such facility, however, we understand that the surge capacity has been consumed by everyday quarantine needs,” the letter said. The MPs have called on the government to “urgently expand” Howard Springs to its maximum capacity of 3,000 people.Earlier Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Howard Springs would have a capacity of 2,000 people by this month, rejecting suggestions the Commonwealth could do more on quarantine. “It is coming at a cost to the Federal taxpayer of half a billion dollars,” he said. Daily Telegraph – News Feed latest episode“So I won’t have it said that the Commonwealth is not doing its fair share of the heavy lifting when it comes to putting those facilities in place.”Mr Morrison said it was to Howard Springs where people would be brought back from India to quarantine after the May 15 travel pause ended. “States are doing their job: they’ve got a 99.99 per cent success rate in preventing breaches in their hotel quarantine,” he said. “Howard Springs has 100 per cent. I am hoping we can keep that.”POSITIVE COVID-19 CASES IN HOTEL QUARANTINE*11 Dec 2020 to 7 Jan 2021CASES: 332TOP COUNTRIES: 1. US: 62 (18.7%), 2 India: 38 (11.4%) and 3. UK: 34 (10.2%)8 Jan to 4 Feb 2021CASES: 274TOP COUNTRIES: 1. US: 49 (17.9%), 2 India: 24 (8.8%) and 3. UK: 23 (8.4%)5 Feb to 4 Mar 2021CASES: 160TOP COUNTRIES: 1. US: 17 (10.6%), 2. India: 14 (8.8%) and 3. PNG: 13 (8.4%) 5 Mar to April 1 2021CASES: 320TOP COUNTRIES: 1. PNG: 55 (17.2%), 2. India: 38 (11.9%) and 3. US: 17 (5.3%)2 Apr to 29 Apr 2021CASES: 469TOP COUNTRIES: 1. India: 210 (44.8%), PNG: 38 (8.1%) and 3. US: 27 (5.8%)*According to Commonwealth Health Department dataNAT – Stay Informed – Social Media

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