Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Friday, 19 February 2021

Some Reflections on Quarantine


Medical staff in Surry Hills, NSW, 1919. Pic courtesy NSW Archives

By now, every state in the commonwealth, with the exception of the Northern Territory has had to resort to at least one snap lockdown because of failures in the hotel quarantine system.

This system works most of the time, but when it breaks down, the results are not pretty, from the point of view of both health and economic outcomes.

Quarantine was used extensively in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, and to a large extent, it did help Australia to get through the episode with a much lower infection rate than many other countries at the time.

Historical accounts describe two different programmes, one maritime and the other land, the first apparently much more successful than the second. The land quarantine camps (as they were called) were set up adjacent to state borders, whereas the maritime stations were set up near embarkation points in the major cities.

All states had quarantine stations (North Head in New South Wales, Port Nepean in Victoria, Bruny Island in Tasmania, Torrens Island in South Australia, Woodman Point in Western Australia, and Lytton in Brisbane) but many more were planned in case numbers overwhelmed their capacity. In due course, temporary quarantine stations and influenza hospitals were set up to handle the increasing volume of affected Australians.1

The maritime stations were apparently relatively effective, but the state border stations were not. People frequently bought their way out or escaped because it was easy to do so. The maritime stations were often set up offshore or in inaccessible locations, so escape was often impossible. These places weren't remote, but they were designed in 1918 to be inaccessible.

Perhaps we can learn from history. Scattered throughout the country are a number of mothballed commonwealth owned and run facilities, mostly detention centres. they include Baxter IRPC* (Cultana SA), Christmas Island IRPC, Curtin IRPC (Curtin WA), Howard Springs Quarantine Facility (NT), Inverbrackie APD# (Woodside SA), and Leonora APD (WA). There are also facilities at Port Augusta and Port Hedland.

What they have in common with the quarantine centres used in 1916 is their inaccessibility.

Christmas Island (which cost the Australian taxpayer $180 million to be reopened when the medical evacuation legislation was passed by parliament) is almost empty. Currently, it houses a family of four from Sri Lanka, although was used briefly to quarantine repatriated Australians last year.  

Most of these facilities use pre-fabricated structures and resemble mining camps in that they consist of separate buildings that don't share ventilation and air-conditioning systems, unlike hotel accommodation currently used for quarantine in our state capitals. Virologists are telling us that self-contained and spread accommodation is much better at preventing the spread of virus than your typical multi-storeyed city hotel. 

Most are located close to airbases with runways of sufficient length to cater for international flights. All are self-contained with catering and laundry facilities attached.

The ADF has currently a strength of just over 85000 full-time personnel and active reservists across the three services. 

Combining personnel, these locations, and a realistic allocation from the defence budget, a number of these centres could be set up as quarantine facilities. They could be staffed with soldiers, sailors and airmen/women, who might be happy to work a FIFO stint for a limited specified period. Infantry soldiers (for example) might be grateful for beds and air-conditioning. Who knows - down the track, personnel who served in these locations could be rewarded with a special Covid medal, similar to that awarded to peacekeepers. I'm only half-joking.

The risk of staff working multiple jobs and locations would be eliminated, and the possibly infected travellers would be housed a long way from major population centres, not smack in the middle of them as currently arranged.

Those in quarantine would probably prefer a self-contained demountable to stuffy hotel rooms with balcony and corridor access off-limits. After all, if you're going to be stuck in quarantine for a fortnight, whether you're in a metropolitan hotel, or a donga in the bush is neither here nor there.

And breaches of security protocols amongst staff (the major cause of the transmitted infections) are probably a bit more unlikely in a military environment than a civilian one. There's always the threat of an A4.

This notion has already taken wings with a couple of entrepreneurs (Wagner in Toowoomba, and Fox at Tullamarine) which strongly suggests that it's feasible.

Strangely, immigration and quarantine are commonwealth responsibilities, but they have been duck-shoved, on this occasion, to the states. Using commonwealth facilities and personnel would put this process in the hands of the level of government responsible.

Anything has to be an improvement on lightning lockdowns.

*Immigration Reception and Processing Centre

#Alternative Place of Detention

1. The Navy and the 1918-19 Flu Epidemic, by Greg Swinden

Comments closed.


Anonymous said...

How about some numbers, Numbers.
1918/19 Spanish flu deaths in Australia were somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000.
With a population bordering 5,000,000 that it is about 0.3 percent of the population.
Woohoo has claimed 900 from a population of 25,000,000...what is the percentage lost?
About the same percentage as carbon dioxide makes up in the air you breathe.

Influenza deaths 2017 were 1100
Influenza deaths 2019 were 900

Anonymous said...

With the advent of Convenient-1984, Australia's seasonal flu deaths have miraculously fallen to 37 from 900 the previous year.

1735099 said...

Australia's seasonal flu deaths have miraculously fallen to 37 from 900 the previous year.

Hardly miraculous - It's a consequence of improved hygiene, social distancing, travel restrictions, and quarantine.
It's an ill wind....

Anonymous said...

There is a good chance that some numbers have been attributed to the convenient corona virus rather than the seasonal flu. For reasons best known to those who attribute cause of death to one cause or the other Convenient-19 has become the cause of choice by not indicating whether the death was caused by or died with the virus. There is a difference and it has been a cause for much questioning, globally. With a survival rate above 95% I am betting you will be lining up at the nearest nursing home in a borrowed wheel chair to jump the queue in order to be given the jab early.

1735099 said...

Sorry old mate - I'm a long way from needing a wheelchair yet.
And I won't be jumping any queues to get the vaccine.
I will be advised by my GP, whom I've trusted for about 20 years.
His advice has always been well informed, and he's an excellent diagnostician.
Unlike your good self, he has no political axe to grind.

Anonymous said...

The blogger believes in freedom of choice, a far cry from his communist overlords.
John Grey

Anonymous said...

"Unlike your good self, he has no political axe to grind."
Please explain where I have ground a political axe. I have noted that many of your readers (all two of them, not counting either family members or yourself, using pseudonyms drawn from your family preferences) point to the fact that you are leftist that admits voting for the Greens rather than Labor. Nowhere in this conversation have I mentioned politics or political views. I merely pointed out the numerical facts as recorded by different statistics recorders relating to this flu that has everyone so excited.
Even in this comment I haven't told you who I vote for or pushed a political view, merely indicated that I am aware of your position, as is anyone who reads what you publish.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry old mate - I'm a long way from needing a wheelchair yet."
That is a very positive attitude...maintain it as long as possible. It indicates the possibility that you can see into the future. I should point out that the future and what it holds is promised to no-one. The first three words of the quote indicate that you may have a perception that we have met before. It is definitely possible. As a fellow pig in S.E.A. 70/71.
I wish you and especially your wife well.

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