Rapid tests key for safer hotel quarantine

Nick Gibbs
·2-min read

A rapid COVID-19 test that delivers results in 10 minutes could hold the key to preventing outbreaks from hotel quarantine sites.

Melbourne's second wave and the current outbreak in Adelaide have been linked to contact between staff at hotel quarantine sites and the wider community.

The rapid tests are 90 per cent accurate and effective at identifying cases when people are infectious but may not display symptoms.

They're about to be trialled at the Howard Springs facility in Darwin where thousands of Australians are arriving from overseas for quarantine.

Dr Ian Norton, an emergency specialist who has considerable experience with the World Health Organisation, as well the Ruby Princess and Victorian aged care responses, said staff at Howard Springs would be tested every three to four days.

He said weekly testing was not enough as the incubation period of the virus is much shorter.

"I can't understand why it's not in place in every other state and territory" he said.

The tests are about a quarter of the cost of the PCR tests used widely in Australia.

"As well as being much more rapid, 10 minutes instead of 24 hours, it means because of that cost you can afford to do it every three days," he said.

Dr Norton is hopeful the trial will illustrate how effective testing at hotel quarantine sites can significantly reduce the risk of second or third waves around the country.

As the "gold standard" he said PCR tests should continue to be used for people with symptoms or known contact with a case.

But he believes the antigen tests to be used at Howard Springs have a vital role to play as the first line of defence for hotel quarantine workers.

They work by combing a swab with a small amount of water that is placed on a cartridge.

Like a pregnancy test, ten minutes later the display of a line indicates the result.

"We should have learnt from Victoria, we clearly didn't and we need to do it now," Dr Norton said.

The tests could also prove useful during the initial stages of an outbreak for critical workers who aren't displaying symptoms.

"Anybody with a symptom, it's got to be PCR," Dr Norton said.

"This is reserved for those at lower risk with no symptoms, working away in critical positions."

The rapid tests are being supplied by a Melbourne company, while similar tests are already used widely around the world where demand is high.

Dr Norton said Australia should act quickly to secure a stockpile.

"They know how to make these tests by the million and we know we can still get supply for the moment, but I'm very worried that soon the US will buy up the rest of it and we'll be stuck without."