Australia should shut its borders to overseas travellers immediately and build specialist quarantine centres, according to a former World Health Organisation epidemiologist.
Adrian Esterman, a biostatistics expert at the University of South Australia, told 3AW that no overseas travellers should be permitted in Australia until the country’s most vulnerable people and quarantine workers are vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Our only source now of infection are others coming in from overseas, so if we stop overseas travel there will be no infections,” Professor Esterman said.
More than a year ago strict international border controls were introduced, with flight caps allowing a limited number of people – only citizens and Permanent Residents and their spouses or dependents- to fly into Australia every week, to control hotel quarantine.
He also urged authorities to set up purpose-built quarantine facilities instead of quarantine hotels, which he says carry too great a risk of infection.
“Hotels were never designed to be quarantine stations, they’re not designed for it architecturally, their ventilation systems aren’t designed for it, and they’re in the middle of cities, which is silly,” Professor Esterman said.
“We’re now a year down the track and we should be thinking of other ways of handling this.
“This isn’t the only epidemic that’s ever going to hit Australia, we’ve got more coming in the future so we should actually have a system built ready for it.”
Professor Esterman was speaking after Victoria entered its third day of a snap five-day lockdown triggered by a cluster at a quarantine hotel.
The cluster stemming from the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn now stands at 16 people.
Last week Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews suggested Australians currently overseas should only be allowed home for “compassionate reasons” amid the new Melbourne outbreak from hotel quarantine.
Mr Andrews said a “discussion” is needed now around the UK strain, which is more infectious, is circulating.
Australians flying in from overseas are sent to hotels for 14 days at the cost of about $3000.
And while about 40,000 Aussies are still on the list as telling the government they want to come back, Mr Andrews suggested new action should be taken.
By Joe Cusmano