Just when the Great Garbage Fire of 2020 was behind us, with its months of COVID-19 lockdown all but a distant memory of stained sweatpants, pant-less Zoom meetings and weekends spent lounging on the couch binge-watching Netflix’s latest docu-series, 2021 reared its head and proved just as devastating. It appears we’re far from being out of the woodwork in terms of the global pandemic and to anyone who thought the days of Covid clusters and enforced lockdown were behind us – think again.
As we’ve seen just recently, it doesn’t take much to spark a new outbreak and now, those in Victoria are living through yet another coronavirus scare as the community enters another lockdown. In the wake of this, Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the state would be “actively pursuing” the construction of a purpose-built quarantine centre near Avalon or Melbourne airports, functioning much like a cabin-style, village-environment based on the Howard Springs model in the Northern Territory. According to the Premier, it would serve to replace the work of inner city hotels.
Andrews addressed the press and explained, “I think there is a compelling argument for this, not just in Melbourne, not just in the Northern Territory.”
With the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine set to take place from Monday after their arrival in Australia, health authorities have now expressed concern that should it take a while for the first dose to work in patients, it’s possible that someone could be infected by the virus before their second dose, leading to a local mutant strain of the virus that could get around the vaccine’s antibody response.
According to Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, who is a member of a World Health Organisation advisory panel on COVID-19, “If you have somebody who hasn’t developed a really good immune response to their first dose of the vaccine, the virus will see the antibodies and learn how to respond.”
In an interview with news.com.au, McLaws said, “The point is, you want to be highly precautionary and give every Australian the best chance to develop a complete protective antibody response without the virus infecting them or developing resistance to the vaccine.”
McLaws has been a vocal supporter of Australia developing a national approach to hotel quarantine, arguing that numerous leaks of the virus from hotel quarantine serve as an indication that the nation needs to change its program. She told the publication, “Myself and others have been saying for nine, ten months now, that the quarantine program was a very good emergency program but should not have been designed as a continuing program.”
Rather, McLaws believes that in order to move forward, each hotel should provide an air-conditioning report from an engineer that shows what the airflow change is in each guest room and corridor. There should be complete replacement of fresh air in these areas at least 10 times an hour. McLaws also believes rapid antigen tests should be introduced on top of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that screen for COVID-19 using nasal swab samples. Antigen test results are available in 10 to 20 minutes, unlike the PCR tests which are more invasive and take a lot longer to determine. All of this, in McLaws’ view, would serve to prevent the virus “from bolting.”