Prepare Australia before opening up to the world

20 May 2021

AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid set the national agenda this week by focusing on what Australia needs to do to prepare for an eventual reopening of international borders. 

He said the first step was to strengthen existing hotel quarantine arrangements and transition to more permanent, long-term facilities. Simultaneously, greater efforts to boost  vaccine confidence were needed and completion of the vaccination program for all Australians. 

“We should be able to get our population vaccinated by the end of the year,” Dr Khorshid told Patricia Karvelas of RN Drive. (see transcript here.) 

“Our pivot towards the Pfizer vaccine may actually assist because the last 10 million people that we need to vaccinate, which is our healthy population, will be getting a vaccine that's given just three to six weeks apart, the two doses. So, it may actually speed things up and there's a really good chance we can get our population fully vaccinated by the end of the year. 

“Once that's done, what else do we need to do to open up? That's the conversation we need to be having right now so that both the population are used to the idea and our health system is ready to cope with whatever's needed. 

“The other thing we'll need is a strong quarantine system, because the chances are we will still have some variants out there that we're worried about. We've got this period of time now to start the planning for long term purpose-built quarantine facilities,” he said. 

Dr Khorshid was amplifying messages contained in a special communique issued by AMA Federal Council this week calling on National  Cabinet to address hotel quarantine.
  
The communique said Australia could not rely indefinitely on emergency hotel quarantine arrangements which were set up as a result of necessity rather than being the product of well-planned long term pandemic response arrangements.

It cited the recent decision to temporarily ban arrivals from India and persistent breaches of hotel quarantine as stark illustrations of the limitations of the current system. 

The communique went on to say: ”Over time, Australia must aim to reduce its reliance on hotel quarantine and transition to new arrangements where quarantine requirements are based on a risk based approached, including the level and sophistication of designated facilities.”
 
The calls on National Cabinet were to commit to: 

  • The national adoption of best practice measures, as an interim step, to further strengthen hotel quarantine including improved ventilation, strengthened Personal Protective Equipment and completion of vaccinations; 
  • Undertake an urgent stocktake of existing facilities (outside of hotel quarantine) that could be repurposed and used to quarantine incoming arrivals, particularly those from higher risk countries or those that are repatriated as part of an emergency response;  
  • Put in place arrangements to fast track the approval of any existing proposals for dedicated quarantine facilities for COVID-19 that are assessed as being suitable; 
  • Agree to the establishment of longer term dedicated quarantine facilities to manage the risks of COVID-19, backed by a comprehensive National Partnership Agreement that assigns operational and funding responsibilities between various levels of governments; and 
  • Improving the capacity of the Australian health system to keep up with ongoing growth in demand for services, particularly in our public hospitals, while also ensuring that there is sufficient surge capacity available to deal with future community outbreaks. 

Read the full communique here