New coronavirus variants are forcing Australia and New Zealand to rethink already-stringent quarantine rules for overseas visitors, even as their systems are replicated around the world.
Officials in Australia’s Victoria state on Wednesday became the latest to warn that the spread of the UK, Brazilian and South African mutations mean its 14-day mandatory quarantine must be toughened.
“These hyper infectious strains are proving very difficult to contain,” Victoria state premier Dan Andrews said, signalling coming reforms and announcing the snap closure of a Melbourne quarantine hotel at the centre of a new leak into the community.
“We all have to acknowledge that quarantine and the public health response today must be, by necessity, different than it was a month ago, six months ago,” he said.
Health authorities in both Australia and New Zealand this week launched full reviews of quarantine facilities and procedures.
Proposals range from developing outback quarantine centres to testing arrivals more often and for longer.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, around 320,000 travellers have been scooped up at Australian and New Zealand ports and airports, shuttled to quarantine hotels and confined to their rooms for 14 days.
The systems have contained thousands of cases, helping both countries remain largely free of COVID-19.
Places around the world—including Britain, Canada and Thailand—are trying to replicate the relative success of such systems, leading Australia’s health minister to boast the country’s quarantine is the “gold standard” internationally.
But in both Australia and New Zealand there is growing concern about the durability of the protocol.
‘Time to move’
As infections worldwide topped 100 million, the number of people arriving with the virus has increased.
On Wednesday alone, New Zealand reported it had detected the virus in travellers from Germany, Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates.
Authorities are also seeing more people arriving with traces of old infections, making it more difficult to sort those with active infections from others.
But the most acute emerging problem is the rise of visitors with more virulent strains—reaching 105 already in Australia—with some infections spreading to hotel workers, transport staff and other quarantined travellers.
Several times in