Fast-evolving isolation rules leave international travelers puzzled as COVID-19 spreads

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Melanie Hyde is happy to be home because the human rights lawyer, who works for the United Nations in the West Bank, has not been able to see her Queensland-based family for two years.

She can’t wait to take her young daughter to see Australian animals that she’s only seen on an iPad, and that she befriends her grandparents, whom she knows mainly through a screen.

While relieved to be allowed to be quarantined at home with her Dutch partner and toddler, and grateful not to be quarantined at the hotel, Ms Hyde was taken aback by a decision ” illogical ”from Queensland Health.

Despite having had three Pfizer vaccines and returned negative PCR tests – before she left Israel and returned to Australia on December 29 – she and her family must self-isolate for 14 days.

However, in a January 3 public health decree, residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 are only required to self-isolate for seven days, provided they are no longer showing symptoms.

“You ask yourself, ‘What is the logic behind someone who is actually positive for COVID … being required to self-isolate for half the time that we are’? Mrs. Hyde said.

The quarantine requirement for international travelers in Queensland is expected to be lifted once 90% of the state’s eligible population has been vaccinated.

As of January 5, only 86.9% were fully immunized.

Ms Hyde said she believed it was an oversight that would be corrected, but a spokesperson for Queensland Health defended the state’s approach, saying they “continue to take a cautious approach as we are reaching vaccination milestones and relaxing restrictions. “

“Although both interstate and foreign hotspots are a concern, the risk profile of overseas hotspots is higher, due to several factors, including: the quality of vaccinations, the different variants circulating overseas and the ‘uncertainty of contact tracing processes used in other countries.

“That is why we can impose stricter restrictions than those set at the national level.”

Professor Nancy Baxter, head of the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health, said that for people like Ms Hyde, seven days of quarantine should be enough.

“Quarantining vaccinated and boosted people for 14 days after testing negative when COVID is everywhere makes no sense,” Professor Baxter said.

She said one of the arguments in favor of a longer quarantine for international arrivals could be to prevent the entry of new variants.

“But at some point I think you have to say that doesn’t make sense, given that we’re relaxing everything for people who actually have COVID.”

Woman receives fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Many in Israel have received a third dose of the vaccine. (Reuters: Nir Elias)

Entry rules for international arrivals are also inconsistent from state to state.

International travel without quarantine to Australia is possible for fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and temporary visa holders in NSW, Victoria, Northern Territory, South Australia and ACT, provided they isolate themselves until they receive a negative PCR test result.

International arrivals direct to Western Australia must quarantine at the hotel for 14 days and, until this morning, most international travelers arriving in Tasmania were required to self-quarantine for seven days.

Ms Hyde said any restriction on rights should be proportionate to public health goals and should not be discriminatory.

“I felt really bad complaining about it, to be honest, because there are so many people in terrible situations and people still stuck overseas – Australians [who] can’t go home, ”she said.

“But, at the same time, I feel like we have to speak out because it’s really important that the government be held accountable for policies that… impact on people’s lives.”

Confusion over the seven-day isolation rule

The latest rules for people in Australia state that people who have had COVID-19 but no longer have symptoms do not have to return a negative test before ending their seven-day isolation period.

A doctor wearing latex gloves holds a covid-19 antigen test.
People are struggling to get their hands on rapid antigen testing. (Provided: Marco Verch / Fickr)

However, some people told the CBA they feared that seven days in isolation was not enough in all cases.

Omar Harris said his parents contracted COVID-19 a week before Christmas and had been in isolation for more than two weeks.

The man from Southwest Sydney said there had been a lot of confusion.

Her parents were unaware that the isolation period had been reduced to seven days, and the NSW Health website is asking close contacts to get a negative rapid antigen test on the sixth day of isolation.

“But my parents couldn’t get access to the rapid antigen kit at all,” said Harris, due to the scarcity and inflated prices.

Mr Harris said his parents were just trying to do whatever it took to stop the spread of the virus – his mother still had symptoms after seven days – and chose to self-isolate rather than wait in long lines waiting for a PCR test.

“My dad said, ‘I prefer to isolate myself for a while.'”

Another man, who asked not to be named, told the ABC he received a text from health officials on December 31, saying he could leave after seven days in isolation.

He didn’t feel comfortable with it – he still had symptoms and a quick antigen test showed he was still positive – so he stayed on New Years Eve.

“It just seemed like they were changing the rules to the point where people were still allowed out in the community. [and they might] be contagious, ”he said.

“If I were a young child, I probably would have said, ‘Fuck it. I’m going on New Years’, then [have infected] a whole bunch of people. “

Professor Baxter said that amid the confusion and rapidly changing rules, the important warning about symptoms could be overlooked.

“The messaging is confusing so it’s easy for people to misinterpret since there is no one there to provide advice.”

A woman poses on a colored background for a portrait
Professor Nancy Baxter says people with symptoms should continue to self-isolate, even if seven days have passed.(Provided)

She urged people to make the “right decisions”, such as wearing a mask during the first week after leaving isolation, and to avoid contact with people at greater risk if they catch COVID, such as those in care for the elderly, those with disabilities and people living in remote indigenous communities.

Professor Baxter said the seven-day isolation rule is about averages and tradeoffs.

“Yes, there will be people who are contagious – it will be the minority.

“We no longer have perfect management of this pandemic, we are doing our best.”

Additional reporting by Erwin Renaldi

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