On Wednesday, the ABC’s medical expert Norman Swan called out what he saw as a “clear double standard” with Australia’s approach to dealing with people who are infected with coronavirus.
That is, while Australians coming back from overseas must spend two weeks in mandatory hotel quarantine, even if it turns out they don’t have coronavirus, people who test positive in Australia are told to self-isolate at home.
Dr Swan argued that making people isolate at special facilities could be a way to get low case numbers, like those being experienced currently in New South Wales and Queensland, down to “almost zero”.
Dr Swan described such a location as a “positive facility” where people are taken for 14 days.
But after reading the responses from Coronacast listeners who had feverishly written in, Dr Swan said the idea was “probably dead”.
Here is some of what those readers had to say.
Some people do support the idea
“I absolutely agree that people who test positive should be quarantined in special COVID-positive facilities. At the very least it should be an option for people to choose voluntarily.
“I live in a small house with five housemates and we all accept that if one of use is infected, there is little hope for the rest of us :(“
“I just heard you talking about removing COVID-19 positive people into a COVID-positive facility. I think this and mask wearing makes so much sense.
“The majority of our population in Melbourne have not got this and won’t ever be exposed to this virus, but our lives are put on hold. More accurately targeting the problem is a way better idea than lockdown of a whole city or state.
“More ideas like this need to be thought of by the government.”
“I am a mum of two, and will be willing to go to the allocated centre to be with my kids if the government would ever go down the path of quarantining the tested positive people in a designated location.”
“While we are waiting for a vaccine (if it ever comes) we should have isolated coronavirus facilities to keep the virus out of hospital and other medical facilities. WA had the right idea with Rottnest Island. We need long-term solutions NOW!”
“Great idea to quarantine positive patients. This was what Wuhan did in February and onwards apart from lockdown.”
“WA showed the way on sensible isolation facilities when they sent people to Rottnest Island – good facilities, pleasant location, accessible to medical facilities, but very hard to abscond.
“Queensland could probably do the same at Hamilton Island. SA could set up a facility on Kangaroo Island if a suitable resort survived the bushfires. Both NSW and VIC will probably need multiple facilities. In Sydney, the old quarantine station is still suitable.”
However, others are VERY against it
“The idea of removing people from their homes who test positive is outrageous. Making it optional, perhaps, but enforcing it is simply going to stop people going to get tested.”
“Just reading Coronacast’s suggestion of quarantine for Covid patients makes me sick with dread. I’d want to recover in my own home, with my books and hobbies and office
“I’d find it traumatic to be dragged off even to five-star luxury, caged with strangers, unable to work, bored out of my skull, with no-one to care for my plants. Norman, have you considered the mental health impact of forcing people from their homes? Or the huge disincentive it would be for testing? Where’s the risk if you live alone?”
Another listener also suggested it should be different for people who live alone
“I live on my own. I would pose no risk to others by self-isolating at home. If this idea happens, there must be an exemption for people who live alone or have a separate granny flat on their or a friend’s property.
“With the ability to get food deliveries and mental health this is a no brainer. Secondly, I disagree with the proposal. Why not have the whole house isolate? Or give people the option?”
But the thing that really changed Dr Swan’s mind? Listeners pointing out the effect on testing
“Norman, with the greatest respect, you are kidding yourself if you think mandatory isolation for positive cases will work. Being forcibly removed from your home and family is a massive disincentive to getting tested. A significant number of people would avoid testing, myself included.
“There would be a perverse outcome that might be worse than the current situation.”
“I almost always agree with what you say, Norman, but I disagree about forced quarantine for positive cases. I think that would be a serious disincentive to testing and we could end up with a worse public health disaster on our hands.
“Also, putting people in unfamiliar surroundings means that they can’t eat their normal food or sleep as soundly. Wouldn’t this increase their chances of complications from COVID?”
“Don’t you think quarantining local COVID-positive cases in special accommodation might deter people from coming forward for testing?”
“The idea of forcibly taking people who test positive to COVID to a quarantine location sounds good, but wouldn’t this have the adverse reaction of reducing the testing rate of symptomatic people?
“Surely we’d rather know that someone is positive and at home rather than disincentivising getting a test and having the virus potentially spread further?”
“I liked the idea on today’s Coronacast about placing positive cases into quarantine, but I fear that it would deter people from coming forward for testing. Nobody wants to be unwell and away from loved ones and in an unfamiliar environment.”
“I think the prospect of mandatory quarantine in a facility would reduce the likelihood of people coming forward to get tested. I have small children and would not be comfortable being away from them for two weeks.
“I think on paper it’s a good idea, but in practice it’s incredibly messy and it would be hard to get the public on board.”
“Please please please don’t even mention the concept of removing people testing positive from their homes for isolation.
“We are already teetering on the edge of a revolt, and it’s already hard enough to get people to go and get tested when they have symptoms. If they think the penalty for being positive is two weeks in jail, they will hide their symptoms even from their family and make everything much worse. In order to keep hiding, they will have to go to work, etc.”
As for Dr Swan’s final word on the subject…
This morning on Coronacast, he said the idea was “probably dead, sadly”, given that Coronacasters are a “typical cross-section of the Australian population”.
He said he was “overwhelmed” by the view of people both for and against the idea that it would be bad for testing rates.
So, it looks like that’s that.
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