Co-written by Dr Tom Wenkart
It is my opinion that there are two major reasons for all of us to be vaccinated. The first is for our own personal safety so that if we did contract COVID-19 we would either remain asymptomatic or develop minor flu-like symptoms but certainly not die, be admitted to hospital requiring a ventilator and, also, potentially develop long COVID.
But, also at a community level, the second reason is the potential for society to return to normal. Part of this returning to normal includes the resumption of international travel and certainly not seeing Australia divided into states where the borders are shut, purely because of a handful of cases have occurred in one region. At present, around 6% of Australian society is fully vaccinated with close to 30% having received their first jab.
Chris Kenny, writing in The Australian newspaper on July 3rd, has written a balanced and sensible argument titled “Held hostage by Fear & Lies”, regarding the politics of fear around the coronavirus pandemic. It is a fact that the last death in Australia was earlier this year from a returned traveller from overseas and from a community acquired infection in October 2020. Despite the increasing cluster in Sydney, with just over 260 active cases, there are only 10 people in hospital and five in ICU with none on ventilators.
During a typical influenza epidemic, there are many more cases in our community with a much sicker in hospital population, often requiring ventilation. Now, of course, we do not have mandatory mask wearing, social distancing or lockdowns during influenza epidemics which may be one explanation for the decreased severity of our current Sydney COVID outbreak. But, it may also indicate that this particular delta Indian strain of the coronavirus, although somewhat more contagious, doesn't appear to be as deadly or serious.
We, therefore, have to ask ourselves the question, why are we locking down major cities and placing the entire community into a panic, especially as our vaccine programme is rolling out, albeit too slowly for most people's liking.
This also brings up the major issue of whether quarantine for returned travellers should be hotel or home based, especially for those who are fully vaccinated. This has become one hot issue. This was clear at the National Cabinet meeting a few days ago. The data shows clearly that hotel quarantine in unvaccinated people either in quarantine or servicing those in quarantine, is the greatest infection risk for the wider community. This is obviously the only way SARS-CoV2 has spread through the Australian community. The facts speak for themselves. Cases of transfer between travellers in hotels has been analysed and apart from wayward staff and air-conditioning cross contamination, the transmission has not included vaccinated persons causing COVID transfer into the Community.
Home Quarantine set up properly with protected airport transfer to the home and into isolation is at the cost of the person in isolation with testing on arrival and then testing every second day in the home. This is much safer and immensely less costly to all involved including the taxpayer, than is hotel quarantine. It is blatantly clear home quarantine costs should be at the returned traveller’s expense.
The community bears the costs of hotel quarantine regardless of the $3000 charge for 2 weeks to the traveller. This is a gross waste, as the transport, hotel and its staff, plus security, police and individual PPE required for so many, catering for those in a hotel, involve considerable costs that doesn’t appear to be factored into the discussion. This also includes the need to clean rooms, provide laundry and supply food. The spin off costs are therefore, considerable.
For those who have experienced hotel quarantine, the quality of the particular facility is the luck of the draw. One typical example was a returned traveller being in a hotel room with a view of a brick wall for two weeks. The room clearly had not been cleaned as the staff were fearful of contracting COVID. This quarantine lottery is a particularly poor way to meet the individual needs of any returned traveller, especially those who have potential or existing mental & physical health issues. This is an autocratic system run by bureaucrats and lacks sensitivity.
The main issue not accepted by the politicians is that home quarantine is safer than hotel quarantine from the community perspective and the general experience to date. The medical, commercial working needs, family, social and grossly restricted physical activity available in a hotel room, causes huge disruption to the returned traveller. The current system is oblivious to these impacts and a bureaucracy has been established to roadblock exemptions.
We are aware that exemptions (celebrities, well known persons, politicians including the PM quarantining in the Lodge, and senior corporates) have been given exemptions to be in “Home Isolation”. No doubt there are others and possibly some with medical reasons. But, there are no clear guidelines as to who, what, why and how they addressed the home quarantine needs. Surely this is itself a disgrace!
There are already rumblings across Australia to allow home quarantine. Minister Stuart Ayres is quoted in the Saturday SMH of his strong view that it can be permitted for confirmed fully vaccinated travellers arriving now! Why is only South Australia conducting a trial? Every state should commence immediately with clear guidelines readily issued in hours. It remains for local police to conduct random visits or even ring on a landline direct to the home anytime and speak to the person. PCR testing at home every other day can easily be implemented by pathology technicians with PPE at the front Door!
The current system is expensive & lacks common sense but it grows the bureaucracy at a time when it must certainly be focused on the main game which is promoting a rapid & effective vaccination program. Surely, fully vaccinated, returning travellers can be safely quarantined at home with almost no risk to themselves or the community. Apart from the personal protection against COVID, if this does not become the case, many people will ask, what is the point of vaccination?
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