Australian Quarantine Programs Must Be Strong as Virus Rages Overseas

Australian Quarantine Programs Must Be Strong as Virus Rages Overseas
Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly during a press conference in the Prime Ministers Courtyard at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on July 24, 2020. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

Australia’s hotel quarantine programs have to be impenetrable as the COVID-19 pandemic rages beyond our shores, the nation’s top doctor has said.

With record deaths and global coronavirus infection rates skyrocketing, Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Australia was in an enviable but delicate position.

Saturday marked eight consecutive days of no community transmission - a statistic the country has not seen since February.

Active cases are being managed across the country in hotel quarantine, with six in NSW, five in Victoria and one each in Queensland and WA recorded in the past 24 hours.

The cases in Victoria marked an end to the state’s 42-day virus-free streak.

Kelly said he had “all confidence” in the Victorian contact tracing system now it had been revamped and international flights had resumed coming into Melbourne since Monday.

The focus, while there was no vaccine being rolled out, was on the robustness of hotel quarantine, he said.

“Whilst we are concentrated on bringing Australians home ... we have to make sure absolutely that our hotel quarantine system is the very best it can be,” he said.

Kelly said that despite the US, UK and Canada giving emergency authorisation for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Australia would not be doing this.

“We don’t need any vaccine this year,” Kelly said.

“Other countries are in far different state than us and they should be prioritised.”

Australia will wait for national regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration to run through its own approvals of the Pfizer vaccine with the expectation it will be distributed in early 2021.

The government has pre-purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, while an extra 20 million of the AstraZeneca vaccine and a further 11 million of Novavax have been ordered to boost supplies after the University of Queensland-CSL’s vaccine effort was abandoned.

Labor’s Mark Butler said on December 12 that world’s best practice was to invest in five or six vaccines and encouraged the Morrison government to “do more”.

“With the loss of the University of Queensland option which has not been shown to be safe and effective, we are now down to three,” Butler said.

Meanwhile, five former prime ministers have offered to be among the first to be vaccinated against the virus when the time comes, to encourage the public to take it.

Kelly expressed doubt as to whether they would be first in line for the jab.

The priority groups would be people at high risk of infection, those at high risk of exposure and frontline health workers, he said.

By Andi Yu in Melbourne