The hotel quarantine model has been set up to address the need to contain the transmission of COVID-19 into the community form Australians returning from overseas; ensuring that the health and wellbeing of those placed into quarantine is properly addressed; and to ensure the safety of all personnel working in the quarantine hotel.
The South Australian infection cluster is currently 23 with 17 suspected cases. There are no new cases today(19th) and around 12,000 people a day are being tested. The public health authorities are putting a double ring-fence around all of those people in the infected cluster on the assumption that those people have had close contacts, and then their contacts have had close contacts. At the moment, we have 3,200 close contacts or contacts of those close contacts, who they’ve identified and they now are all in quarantine. In addition to that there are other thousands of South Australians who have had a private test and were also in quarantine.
Despite the break down in the quarantine hotel being similar, the virus situation in South Australia is different to that of Victoria. Unlike Victoria, South Australia doesn’t have multiple clusters or community transmission spreading quickly across our state. South Australia is following the New Zealand model: going hard and going early to get out of this situation of a coronavirus cluster as quickly as it possibly can.
Secondly, South Australia’s public health response is in such marked contrast to what is happening in the US or the UK, where politics has over ruled public health. In both cases there has been a major public policy failure premised on a collusion between scientific and medical advisers and politicians which in the end has been damaging to public health.
The photos in this post were made on poodlewalks in my local coastal area a few days before the mandatory lockdown. The last one was made in the late yesterday afternoon around 4 hours before the lockdown. There will no more coastal walks during the lockdown, but, apparently I am able to walk the poodles on my way to the supermarket for my once a day trip.
The mandatory stay-at-home lockdown will end early–midnight Saturday–after it was revealed that a male who tested positive for Covid-19 had lied to contact tracers over working in a pizza bar where another case had worked. It turns out the 36 year old man is on a temporary student visa. The fact that the male worked at the bar a number of times and was not simply a customer, meant that he was deemed a close contact of the security guard who also worked there.
This has caused the state government to revise down the perceived risk of infection to people who patronised the pizza bar–it means there’s no longer that huge risk of widespread transmission. If someone had picked the virus up simply from picking up a pizza, then hundreds of people could have picked it up from anywhere in Adelaide. The alleged lie led authorities to believe the cluster was much more widespread and more infectious than it really was, leading them to impose the wide-scale lockdown.
Even though South Australia will come out of hard lockdown, it won’t be able to return to pre-lockdown times. The the total number of cases in the Parafield cluster is now 26, about 5,400 people identified as close contacts are in quarantine, and more than 19,000 tests were conducted on Friday. The virus is still out in the wild, security work in the medi-hotels is still being outsourced to private security companies, and the low paid, casual security staff still need to work multiple jobs.
What is highlighted by this episode is the connection between public health and the current neo-liberal model of insecure, low paid casual work that forces people to work several jobs. In this case a security guard in a medi-hotel became infected and then worked as a barman in a pizza restaurant infecting others. This highlights how insecure work is the “achilles heel” of the pandemic: poorly trained workers in casual employment at the quarantine hotels are among those most at risk amid the economic pressures of the coronavirus outbreak.
The examples of lapses in the quarantine hotels in both Victoria and South Australia show that is Australia’s weak link in preventing community transmission of the Covid-19 virus. Unfortunately the Premier of South Australian framed the episode to direct blame on an individual worker when there are real systematic issues that need to be addressed. Consequently, the systemic issues were glossed over by the state government.
The current model of a quarantine hotel in the centre of the city with its contracted out casual, low paid workforce needs to be substantial rethought. A shift to purpose-built facilities for returned travellers, staffed by non-casual workers is probably the way Australian needs to go