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Post Quarantines and "Spreader Events" in Australia
Created by John Eipper on 12/30/20 2:18 PM

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Quarantines and "Spreader Events" in Australia (Martin Storey, Australia, 12/30/20 2:18 pm)

John E asked on December 23rd:

"Can someone (Martin Storey?) explain to us how the draconian quarantine system works in Australia? Where do the 'internments' take place?"

Here just like in many other countries, it is difficult to know the truth, and when one happens to know some shreds of it, these are often shockingly different from the official narrative. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that beyond the ravaged economy and the virtual impossibility to travel overseas, life here in Western Australia is essentially "normal."

Here is how I broadly understand how events have unfolded here:

The first recorded case was in late January, of someone who had just returned from Wuhan, China. We followed the news but it was towards the end of March when people started really acting or reacting, in particular by purchasing prodigious numbers of toilet paper rolls. In mid-March (11th), the level of concern was still sufficiently low that I went to see a rock concert and stood for three hours in a sweaty "moshpit" with hundreds of people, in the nearby harbour town of Fremantle.

Around that time, the federal government closed the international borders to non-residents/non-citizens for selected countries. People returning from overseas were required to quarantine, although details of requirements and implementation varied on a state-by-state basis (Australia is a federation with six states and 2 main "territories"--effectively 8 states).

As the virus spread around the world, it arrived to Australia mainly by plane, a risk that can be controlled through a combination of government-imposed quarantine and airline flight cancellations, and by cruise ship, which has been controlled by refusing to let the ships berth or people disembark.

At the small scale of the epidemic in this country, things went very wrong mainly twice:

In mid-March, a cruise ship called the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock in Sydney, New South Wales, and discharge more than 2500 passengers, when it was known that there were confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board. The various authorities in the relevant chains of command all denied allowing this to happen. The virus spread into the community, including aged-care facilities and, for some reason, meat-processing plants, from that incident.

From March to May, in Melbourne, Victoria, there were gross breaches of hotel quarantine and it appeared that security had been outsourced to people who were neither qualified nor trained for the work, and would allow guests to leave the hotel, or would socialise with them, possibly even overnight, it has been reported. This required the lockdown of more 300,000 people to control. Once again, no one fessed up to deciding on and awarding these contracts, all without due tender process of course.

Apart from these two incidents which caused the numbers to flare up, most cases remain from returning people and are detected while they are in quarantine, thus preventing the virus from spreading in the community.

Travel between states remains difficult and contingent on there not having been any community case in the state from where people want to come.

Sometime during that period, we too here in Western Australia had to completely lock down for a few weeks, and home-school our children.

In this state, we have not had a reported case of COVID-19 in the community in over 270 days, although we hear regularly of people who "test positive" while in hotel quarantine. As I type and according to https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/australia/ , there are currently 1,715 active cases in the country, of whom 0 (zero) are "serious or critical." Previously there have been nearly 26,000 cases recorded as recovered or discharged, and 909 deaths. 26,000 is just a little over 0.1% of the population of 25 million.

Here in Western Australia, we all realise that we have been very "lucky," no doubt thanks to some of our state and federal governments' actions, but also through sheer luck. We all know that things could change very quickly indeed, as they did in Sydney and Melbourne following their respective incidents.

In the past few days, large groups of people have been reported to socialise and "party" on New South Wales beaches just as cases are flaring up there. Could this be the third time when things go very wrong?

In our circumstances, we are told that vaccination will start in March (2021).

I am not sure whether this was instructive to outside readers. At the above URL, the figures from 220 countries can be seen in "real time" and Australia currently has the 99th most number of total cases. Pick a different criterion and Australia gets a different ranking, but there are many countries doing better, and not all of these are small. Take Taiwan, for instance, of approximately the same population: it has done much better than Australia by any criterion. Could it be that Australia gets more attention because it is English-speaking?

Please stay safe.

Warmest Season's Greetings from Perth, Western Australia (> 100 deg F today)

JE comments:  Martin, I'd love for you to share some of that warmth!  And best wishes for the New Year.  The last time you explained Australia's relative success in containing Covid, we noted that Melbourne has been hit the hardest.  From what you write above, we now know why.

Still, Australia is fortunate to be a continent accessible primarily by air.  Insular Taiwan has the same good fortune.

You mention home schooling.  Although I presume it's now summer holiday, can you give us a sense of how this worked?  Due to its long history of "distance learning" for children in the Outback, Australia can probably give educators elsewhere a pointer or two.

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