Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday announced unprecedented measures that all people entering the country must self isolate for two weeks.
The mandate to quarantine has sparked confusion among travellers who touched down in Australia after the rule came into effect at midnight on Sunday.
Travellers have reported being handed a A4 page of information directing them to online resources upon arrival. Some say they only learned of the strict new rule when the pilot announced it after landing.
One resident returning to Australia from Bali said she was told it was okay for her and her family to travel on public transport from the airport.
“When we landed in Sydney someone from bio security got on and handed us all forms explaining that everyone entering must self isolate for 14 days,” she said.
“If you need to get a connecting flight then you self isolate until your connecting flight.
“I asked if we were ok to travel home by train and was told that was ok but we must go straight home and not make any stops to the shops,” she wrote in a Facebook group dedicated to Bali travellers.
Can people take connecting flights domestically?
Many passengers have expressed concern over the fact that people have still been able to take connecting flights once landing in Australia, however Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly sought to quell those concerns Monday afternoon.
“We have been dealing with that issue since the start of this epidemic,” he told reporters.
“If people are found to be symptomatic when they arrive, then they won't be travelling on. People that are well will be allowed to travel back to their homes and that's the best place for them to be.”
However, that commitment to testing at airports to identify ill passengers is at odds with what many travellers have been reporting in recent days.
“Sydney airport was quiet and organised, we were asked several times if we knew about the self isolation but other than that no health checks or forms were done,” the woman returning from Bali wrote Monday.
“I hope this helps anyone that is worried about the journey home.”
Government working to ensure sick people don’t fly to Australia
According to the Department of Health, the Australian government says it is also working at overseas airports to help ensure sick people don’t board flights to Australia.
“If you are unwell, airlines must refuse to let you fly. There will be extra screening of passengers at Australian airports to identify anyone who is unwell,” its website says.
“At overseas airports, Australian Border Force liaison officers will work with airlines to identify travellers who should not board.”
Currently, a majority of Australia’s identified cases of COVID-19 have still been linked to overseas travel.
“For now it's still the case that most of the people that have COVID-19 in Australia right now are actually people that have come back from overseas. We're on that tipping point, to an extent, where there are now some cases we're finding that don't have that definite link,” Mr Kelly said.
Are people getting public transport from the airport?
Passengers arriving in Australia have not been prevented form using public transport for the final leg of their journey.
It’s hoped that those coming in will either be picked up by family members or housemates if possible, or will at least use the taxi system or ride sharing apps to get home.
However, Mr Kelly admitted the final leg of the journey is an issue when it comes to the potential spread of the virus to drivers.
“That's an issue. We've had some people ask about that, the travellers themselves, as well as the taxi drivers, Uber drivers and so forth,” he said.
“In other places they've been a risk group,” he said of taxi and Uber drivers.
In dealing with these inherent difficulties, authorities are pointing people towards the general advice of the quarantine to keep a safe distance from people, wash their hands and wear a mask in public if they have one.
“It's not about stopping it completely,” Mr Kelly conceded. “We will have more cases.”
Travellers turning around at the border
For travellers intent on staying in Australia, they are being asked to find accomodation where they can self isolate for the two week period – a difficult prospect for many.
The ABC’s national affairs reporter Greg Jennett is also among those who have been caught up in the quarantine mandate after arriving in Australia Monday.
Speaking to the ABC this morning, he said he witnessed travellers turn around after learning they would need to self isolate for two weeks.
“We did see people who were going to enter Australia on tourist visas who were shocked and I saw two turn and walk at that point,” he recalled.
“I didn't talk to them but clearly the implication I was hearing ‘how are you going to accommodate yourself for two weeks?’, the Border Force officer asked, and the response was we didn't make provision for this, we don't have the money for this so they abandoned it at the airport.”
Mr Jennet also received the A4 piece of paper from biosecurity authorities with the quarantine information, which tells people to stay in their home or hotel and practice good hygiene.
“It was early and there was scant information on the A4 sheet. It doesn't specify anything about shopping, it just says you are required for 14 days after entering Australia to complete your transit to your home base,” he said.
“For my case, I was able to get the shuttle bus from international to domestic and get my Canberra flight but then it referred to the ‘isolation guide’ for further specifics.”
Guidelines for self isolation
The online information from the Department of Health tells people who need to self isolate not to go to public places, not to allow any home visitors and have other people do their grocery shop for them.
Do not go to public places such as work, school, shopping centres, childcare or university.
Ask someone to get food and other necessities for you and leave them at your front door.
Do not let visitors in — only people who usually live with you should be in your home.
“You do not need to wear a mask in your home. If you need to go out to seek medical attention, wear a surgical mask (if you have one) to protect others,” the website also says.
“You should stay in touch by phone and online with your family and friends.”
The Prime Minister has responded to questions of enforcement by suggesting that people dob in their neighbour for not isolating, saying penalties would be “a matter for the states and territories”.
“If your mate has been to Bali and they come back and they turn up at work and they are sitting next to you, they will be committing an offence,” Mr Morrison said.
Meanwhile, Victoria and the ACT have taken the step to enact a state of emergency to give health authorities greater powers to enforce the home quarantine mandate, with fines for those who are caught disobeying ranging from $8,000 to $20,000 in different states and territories.
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