There are no exemptions to mandatory hotel quarantine in Australia but pragmatic solutions are found where difficult cases arise on humanitarian or compassionate grounds, an Irish doctor working in the country has said.
Public health specialist Dr Niall Conroy said that while the Australian regime was “strict”, it had worked to keep Covid-19 out.
The Queensland-based medic told a webinar hosted by the Independent Scientific Advocacy Group that nobody was exempt from quarantine, including those who were fully vaccinated.
“We’re a zero Covid environment. 1,800 cases being let into the community would, with the exponential growth that we’ve seen, have resulted in us being as hard-hit as anywhere else,” Dr Conroy said.
Quarantine hotels must be pre-booked and cost around €1,500, although travellers do not pay in advance and individuals can pay by installments or apply for an exemption on costs.
Incoming travellers that test positive for the virus are taken to hospital — even if they do not show symptoms.
Dr Conroy said the system was part of a broad suite of public health measures and that a “lot of learning” had taken place over the past year.
Where humanitarian cases arise, individuals will still have to quarantine but “pragmatic solutions” will be found, he said, giving an example of daily hospital visits and Covid tests being arranged for someone arriving into the country to see a dying relative.
An exemptions unit with legal and medical staff is established in each state, he said, to deal with “difficult cases” that arise with quarantine and other Covid-related issues.
The system is backed up by medical and mental health supports and managed through a central logistics unit that links in with hospitals and the police force as necessary.
Working with airlines was “key” to ensuring that passengers were pre-booked and the quarantine system must have “spare capacity” and could not run at 99 to 100% capacity like the Irish health system.
Australia, he said, had a “very good” public health system and was well resourced, unlike in Ireland where public health doctors were still not given consultant status.
“I left for that reason because I could get a consultant contract in Australia,” he said, adding that he leads a team of 16 staff and has “loads more” resources and authority to make decisions compared to his Irish counterparts.
Meanwhile, University College Cork Professor Ivan Perry said the pandemic was a "wake-up call" to invest in services to deal with other public health challenges including, obesity, substances misuse, and an “epidemic of mental distress in young people”.
“The pandemic we’re going through is a wake-up call to develop our public health systems nationally and globally but unfortunately there is no sign at the moment in Ireland that we’re taking that message on board,” he said.
Public Health expert Professor Gabriel Scally said the 1800 Quarantine Act kept the plague out of the island of Ireland and that it was “very disappointing” that an all-island approach to quarantine was not taken.
“There should be one unified quarantine system for the whole island. That’s what makes perfect sense”.