By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard
Last week Tony Blakely, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, said this about our quarantine priorities while a panellist on ABC’s Q&A program: “First, get as much of it as we can out to the regional places, like Howard Springs… My textbooks on public health medicine said that’s how you do it before COVID.”
The idea we’re so far only selectively following the textbook on how to deal with a pandemic will surprise many people.
But it’s not just science, it’s also common sense. Bringing the disease deliberately into our most populated cities, then allowing those hotel workers with the closest contact with returned travellers to mix freely in the community is a recipe for continued outbreaks, as has now been proven many times.
It begs many questions. Why have we followed science in every single way while managing COVID-19 but not where we locate quarantine? Is it a way of propping up hotels while the tourism trade bottoms out? Was it just our first and easiest option, and we’ve simply not been willing to reconsider?
Great credit goes to Premier Palaszczuk who in late January put exploring regional quarantine on the agenda for National Cabinet to consider.
But disappointingly, without any further explanation following their next meeting National Cabinet simply confirmed hotel quarantine would continue to be the model used to quarantine returning Australians.
Meanwhile, the gap between seasonal harvest labour supply and demand continues to grow. More than 1,000 backpackers continue to leave the country each week.
And taking responsibility for filling this gap, including by expanding quarantine for incoming workers from the Pacific, appears to be a responsibility the Federal Government in particular wants to avoid more than the plague. This despite migration on one hand, and employment on the other, both being owned by the Federal Government.
To date not one of the over 2,400 incoming workers from the Pacific has tested positive for COVID before arriving or during quarantine.
If we followed science, these low risk seasonal workers would be quarantining in city hotels and returning Australians in dedicated regional facilities.
Growcom calls on the Federal Government and National Cabinet to follow the science, to invest in regional quarantine, and in doing so, help solve our growing seasonal labour shortage.