UNSW Epidemiologist, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws believes that the one quarantine facility within Victoria is nowhere near the required amount of these buildings, and says that there should be purpose-built COVID-19 quarantine facilities in each state, irrespective of vaccination numbers.

With over 30,000 Australians still stranded overseas, McLaws says quarantine facilities will enable many of these citizens to come home.

“Until we have purpose-built quarantine centres built in each capital city, I would urge the authorities in the meantime to develop national best practice across all states and territories,” she says in an interview with the UNSW’s media department.

“This should start with tightening up those weaknesses in the current system that can be improved immediately with the vaccination of all hotel quarantine staff and all their households.

“And an urgent area for improvement is identifying the best facilities for returned travellers – hotels with superior air changes and windows that open – and by placing guests on one side of the corridor with a vacant room in between, while relocating all guests from a single room as soon as one of their group tests positive.”

While hotels across capital cities have been utilised to isolate travellers both interstate and overseas, McLaws says the multi-storey buildings do not meet hospital standards for dealing with highly infectious diseases.

“An average-size infectious ward must have at least 10 full clean air changes per hour per person and that ward must not act as a positive air pressure room when doors are open,” she says.

“So a hotel room that does not meet the air change per hour per person increases the chances of opportunistic aerosol spread.”

The key to the facilities is ventilation. In order to be effective and limit the spread of COVID-19, quarantine buildings must be of a single storey and possess more than one air conditioner.

“Ideally these buildings would be single-storey with natural airflow and separate buildings for travellers who test positive to the virus, while the current hotel rooms should be equipped with air-conditioners that can meet 10 air changes per hour per person,” McLaws says.

“The cost of a lockdown in NSW and Victoria is $1 billion a week. In Victoria it was estimated that they could make a purpose-built quarantine centre with 3000 beds for $700 million. And now they’re in their fourth lockdown, this time because of the failings of hotel quarantine in another state. That is why it’s so important that all states make custom-built quarantine systems a priority.”

Image: UNSW