Expert’s grim home quarantine prediction

An update on the timeline for returned travellers to isolate at home could be frustrating for those wanting to get back to Australia before Christmas.

One of Australia’s top Covid-19 authorities has said it could be months before all returned travellers will be allowed to isolate at home.

Jane Halton, chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and commissioner of the National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board, said a pilot program would still be underway at the time the border opened – meaning the option would not be available for everyone.

“We have to get the vaccination rates (to) at least 80 per cent before we get the borders open and then we have to find some way to run the sequencing, but I am very hopeful that we will have the pilot program up and running in the next couple of months,” Ms Halton told Sunrise.

“When the border starts to open, we will have other options for people.”

Ms Halton was then asked why home quarantine was needed if Australians were fully vaccinated.

She pointed to the Doherty Institute’s modelling, which national cabinet was using for its plan to come out of the pandemic.

“If you look at the national program, it tells us we need to continue to manage Covid, and the amount of Covid we have in our communities, because as we know, we will have to learn to live with the virus for some time to come,” she said.

“We will need to keep the amount of Covid in our communities low. That’s important, because we have to keep the pressure off a hospital system.

“Remember there is still a possibility if you have had the vaccine that you might still catch the disease, it won’t make you sick, it won’t make you at risk of severe disease I doubt, but it‘ll mean that you could potentially (give it to) somebody else.”

Ms Halton’s warning comes despite a South Australian government trial of an ultra-strict home quarantine app running smoothly.

The South Australian trial began with 50 travellers from interstate last week and then included 90 returning from overseas this week.

Returned travellers, instead of entering a medi hotel upon arrival from overseas, must download the government’s home quarantine app, which uses geolocation and facial recognition software to track those isolating.

The app contacts people at random, asking them to show proof of their location within 15 minutes.

If a user’s location can’t be identified, SA Health will notify SA Police to conduct an in-person check on the person in home isolation.

Ms Halton said it would be “better than what we have had with hotels”.

“The South Australian app is fantastic, it does face recognition, it can tell where you are and if you don’t answer within a certain amount of time, the geolocation says you’re at home or in your backyard, not next-door,” she said.

“If we have to send our police forces checking everyone is where they are meant to be, it would be very expensive.”

South Australia’s home quarantine app trial has faced criticism domestically and internationally for being intrusive.

Premier Steven Marshall said returned travellers should not be concerned about their information being shared.

“We don’t keep any of the data, we are certainly not tracking people going around the house but when they do receive a call on the up they need to basically show their face and there needs to be a connection to where they should be and at that time,” he said.

Australians stranded overseas continue to be given bad news.

Several airlines have been cancelling flights due to Australia’s cap on international weekly arrivals.

The number was halved from 6000 a week to 3000 on July 14, before being NSW cut it again this month from 1500 to 750 a week.

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