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As more cases of COVID-19 appear in hotel quarantine, the NSW Government warns the standard isolation period may not be long enough for some returned travellers.
The UK strain of coronavirus recently leaked out of a quarantine hotel in Brisbane, forcing the city into a snap three-day lockdown.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian now says returned travellers may have to quarantine beyond usual 14 days if they start getting symptoms during that time.
Who will have to quarantine longer than 14 days?
At the moment only returning travellers who test positive for the UK strain or other overseas variants that are more contagious than the one which is currently dominant in Australia.
“We’re still picking up cases in those last days of being in isolation,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
“If you’re in quarantine and you have the onset of symptoms from one of these more contagious strains, the 14 days starts from the day you develop those symptoms.”
Data so far indicates the UK strain is up to 70 per cent more infectious than what Australia has been dealing with since March.
“Previously it was just 14 days,” the Premier said.
“But given how transmissible and how lethal the new strains are, if you’re in quarantine and you develop symptoms during the 14-day isolation, unfortunately for you, your count starts from the day you develop symptoms.”
Melbourne GP Vyom Sharma said that was the right decision.
“We do not know enough about this variant just yet,” Dr Sharma said.
“It’s clear we can’t afford to let this strain leak out.
“It has been an extraordinary effort to keep your garden-variety SARS CoV-2 at bay.
“This is more transmissible and I think until we can be absolutely sure our processes are perfectly in check as a temporary measure it makes sense.”
Will I have to be tested again?
NSW has also adopted new rules stipulating that people in hotel quarantine with one of the more transmissible overseas strains of the virus be tested at the end of their quarantine period.
If that test comes back positive, an expert panel then decides if they can be released.
Epidemiologist Raina MacIntyre said while exit testing was not in place initially, it was appropriate to introduce it now.
“That was a recognition that sometimes you get shedding of the virus, so initially that was reasonable,” she said.
“The stakes are higher now … and the focus is on the importation of the overseas strains … so it’s quite a reasonable approach.”
What about if I’m in isolation at home?
There’s no change for people who catch the virus here.
But health authorities have emphasised the importance of doing the full 14 days’ quarantine if you’ve potentially been exposed to the virus to catch any infections that emerge late.
“The health experts often say to us sometimes there are unusual cases where people are still infectious or deemed to be at risk at the end of that 14 days,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“So please know that whilst there is a general principle in place, there could be exceptions and we have to be open to that.
“We can’t risk having people going out into the community who may still have a level of infectiousness because that will undermine our entire strategy.”
Professor MacIntyre said despite fears around the more virulent strains of the virus, there wasn’t a need to extend the length of quarantine in general.
“Fourteen days is pretty safe timing,” she said.
“Most people (90 per cent) will present in five to six days and the 14 days catches the tail.
“Occasionally people will incubate for longer but in general 14 days will capture most people.”