A leading epidemiologist has urged health authorities to rapidly improve quarantine facilities to prevent further Covid-19 leaks as the number of returned travellers with the virus soars.
NSW has recorded 40 new infections in quarantine in just five days to Tuesday. In stark contrast, the first five days of the month, just weeks earlier brought a total of just 11 cases.
Other states are also seeing an alarming rise in cases, with the Northern Territory importing 13 in one day alone on Friday.
There were 25 quarantine cases across the nation on Tuesday.
The majority of the cases have arrived from India, a virus-riddled nation now consistently recording more than 300,000 cases a day.
And while Prime Minister Scott Morrison halted inbound flights from the troubled country on Tuesday, experts fear the increased number of infected patients in hotel quarantine now pose a significant risk to the public.
Epidemiologist Professor Raina MacIntyre from UNSW said airborne transmission must be a focus for authorities.
“The next issue is addressing airborne transmission. Sadly this is denied by the national committee, the Infection Control Expert Group (ICEG), which advises AHPPC,” she told news.com.au.
“As long as we deny airborne transmission, we cannot stop continual breaches in hotel quarantine. We need to address ventilation, use portable air cleaners, provide hotel quarantine staff with N95 respirators, and select quarantine venues based on the adequacy of ventilation."
Calls for hotels to be scrapped
Several recent infections to have occurred inside facilities have only fuelled calls for immediate action, including for ICEG to update advice and introduce ventilation criteria for quarantine venues.
WA Premier Mark McGowan, who thrust his state into a snap, three-day lockdown after an infected male recently out of quarantine spent days in the community, has called on the federal government to take control of the situation and implement a system that utilises purpose built facilities.
"I think they do need to use a bit more thought, and a bit more flexibility and a bit more effort to assist in finding solutions to this problem," he said on Tuesday.
He has highlighted several possible facilities including Christmas Island and its Immigration Detention Centre.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese echoed his remarks, saying the "desperate" situation in India highlighted the need to establish dedicated quarantine facilities with open air for returning travellers.
Health department defends current set up
Yet Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly defended hotel facilities, saying they are "fit for purpose" and transmission inside facilities was to be expected as he faced the Senate's coronavirus response committee in Canberra.
"The important thing is that it doesn't transmit outside of quarantine and if it does, that it's picked up quickly," he said.
Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said there were no plans to invest in purpose-built facilities and that health officials had examined options including Christmas Island and Defence bases, and none were physically suitable.
Even if a new facility was built, Australia "would not have the public health workforce" to operate it, he said.
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