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Spurrier rejects remote quarantine for SA, warning of transmission risk


SA’s chief public health officer says it’s “horses for courses” as to whether states should seek to shift quarantine facilities away from their CBD, saying a rejected proposal to repurpose The Bend motorsport park might have worked if it was “closer to Adelaide”.

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Prominent businessman Sam Shahin yesterday floated the Tailem Bend proposal, suggesting accommodation facilities and an airstrip could be quickly constructed to turn the racetrack into a temporary quarantine hub – but the SA Government quickly shot the offer down.

That’s despite state governments in Victoria and Queensland actively exploring quarantine facilities away from Melbourne and Brisbane respectively, with Dan Andrews yesterday flagging a purpose-built quarantine accommodation based on the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory.

“It would be a cabin-style, village-style environment, where there would be fresh air, where there would be not zero risk, but lower risk,” the Victorian Premier said at the time, with Avalon and Melbourne Airports touted as potential sites.

The Queensland government is backing a private outback quarantine camp, which would host up to 1000 travellers and 300 staff at Wellcamp Airport near Toowoomba, but is awaiting a response from the Commonwealth about staff funding arrangements.

But Professor Nicola Spurrier told InDaily today SA authorities had already exhausted possible sites outside the CBD before this week’s opening of a dedicated quarantine facility for COVID-positive arrivals at the Tom’s Court Hotel on King William St.

“The team here have really looked at everything,” she said.

“There are some [potential sites] that are smaller facilities that might take a smaller number [of arrivals], but you have to think about the transfer of people – and whenever there’s a transfer of someone with COVID, you’ve always got a risk of transmission.”

She said The Bend’s distance from Adelaide – around 100km from the airport and the Royal Adelaide Hospital and its dedicated COVID clinic – was the main element that precluded it from consideration.

“The logistics of it – if it were closer to Adelaide I think we’d be able to take a more positive view of it,” she said.

“One of the issues we always need to be mindful of is how close we are to our COVID hospital – and our main hospital is the Royal Adelaide – and we need to be able to transfer positive cases… so if we used that facility as a general quarantine facility and we had positive cases, we’d need to work out how to transfer them – and when we do transfer people, there’s always a risk of transfer to someone else.”

She said with several international arrivals each day, “we’d need to transfer them by bus to a facility [and] all of that would mean a transmission risk for the driver”.

While she has enthused about the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility, it was not as far from key facilities as Tailem Bend would be.

“People think it’s out the middle of nowhere… but it’s only 20 km from Darwin – so it’s close to the airport, it’s close to the hospital,” she said.

Premier Steven Marshall yesterday rejected Shahin’s offer, saying: “We’re listening to the experts with regards to our quarantine hotel arrangements, and the experts are very clear that that needs to be here in the CBD.”

Asked today whether that advice had changed, given Victoria and Queensland’s positions on remote quarantine facilities, Spurrier said: “It depends what size your city is.”

“In Melbourne, you have to drive quite a few Ks to get outside that built-up CBD area [but] in SA, we’re a much smaller city… it’s much more open,” she said.

“So I think it’s really horses for courses – it depends what the state’s like.”

Her comments came after former Premier Jay Weatherill today suggested the Government was hasty in rejecting Shahin’s offer.

“I think I’d be reluctant to turn away an offer of support,” he told ABC Radio.

“When anybody in the community puts up their hand up and wants to lend a hand, I think we should find a way of working with them.”

In an interview with InDaily today, Spurrier also reflected on a recent report suggesting she backed the retention of QR codes in SA after the coronavirus pandemic had subsided.

She told the Sunday Mail in January: “You can imagine, if and when COVID resolves, it would be hard to convince people to have the energy to keep scanning in but certainly it is a total game changer for our contact tracers.”

But the CPHO says the impression she was backing the retention of the QR system after COVID “may have been miscommunicated”.

“QR codes, during a pandemic, really help with contact tracing – and that’s because it speeds up the time that contact tracers can find out who is a close contact and get them into quarantine,” she said.

“When you have someone who’s had a heart attack, every minute counts [and] for us in ‘contact tracing land’, also every minute counts.”

However, she added, “when we’re not in a pandemic, when we have no infections, why would you ask the public to use QR readers?”

“That would be ridiculous,” she added.

She said the technology should ideally be retained on standby to preserve “the ability to switch it on quickly”, but “you wouldn’t have it switched on and require people to use it when there’s no requirement”.

“So, no… it’s a very, very useful tool during a pandemic – but you’d only use it in that situation,” she said.

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