The length of time domestic and international travellers are forced to spend in quarantine could be slashed, according to new modelling from a medical research institute.
Travellers are currently forced to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine when entering Australia to control the spread of coronavirus but this could be reduced to a maximum of eight days or none at all.
The modelling says state border restrictions are unnecessary and implored state leaders to allow Australia to be opened entirely for domestic travel.
The research, funded by Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation and conducted by the Burnet Institute of medical research, says passengers could be split into categories depending on the threat level of the pandemic in the country they enter from.
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This would safely allow for increased travel and provide a $85 billion boost to the Australian economy, the report says.
“At the moment we have industries – agriculture, tourism, and the tertiary education sectors to name just a few – absolutely crippled by the closure of our borders,” the foundation’s Dr Steve Burnell said.
“Universal 14-day quarantine is an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach that is adversely impacting the Australian economy and countless people’s lives.”
Dr Burnell said a “risk-based” quarantine strategy could greatly reduce the overall time spent in quarantine by up to 49,000 days per month.
“Without meaningfully increasing the risk of COVID-19 importation, such tailored, evidence-based approaches could reduce the cost of quarantine to the taxpayer, mitigate the significant physical and mental health effects of 14-day isolation and deliver up to $85 billion in economic benefits as travel resumes to pre-COVID levels.”
For international travellers, the modelling, dubbed ‘traQ model’, would assign each country of origin into one of five categories ranging from very high to very low risk, depending on the coronavirus rates in each country and risk of infection during travel.
Burnett Institute chief executive Professor Brendan Crabb said the 14-day quarantine process has been effective at controlling the virus “but it is a blunt instrument that comes at a high economic and social cost”.
“While 14-day quarantine will still be needed for travellers from high risk countries, the traQ model provides a careful, evidenced-based way to reduce the time spent in quarantine for travellers coming from low to moderate risk COVID-19 settings,” he said.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been more willing than her Queensland and Western Australian counterparts to open borders but said she had reservations about introducing a reduced quarantine period.
She told reporters on Tuesday it would be “risking the whole system” because some in hotel quarantine have tested positive after a second test after 10 days in lockup.
But Dr Burnell said the timing of the testing had a significant impact on reducing risk.
“The study has identified that the ideal timing of tests in quarantine is two tests near the end, regardless of the duration of quarantine,” he said.
On Monday, Melbourne residents poured out of the city as coronavirus travel restrictions were lifted in Victoria.
Motorists were banked up at various exit points, and police struggled to contain the crowds while temporary infrastructure was removed.
After 123 days, the ring of steel separating Melbourne and regional Victoria came down with the 25km travel limit being dropped as the state continued its run of zero new community transmitted cases.
Gyms, cinemas and museums were given the green light to reopen on Monday, and hospitality venues were allowed to ramp up the number of patrons served both in and outdoors.
Victorians will also be permitted to have two people visit their home per day from the same or different household.
The Victorian border with NSW will reopen on November 23 as the latter recorded a second consecutive day of no locally transmitted cases.
This will leave Queensland as the odd state out along the nation’s east coast, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk refusing to open to Sydney residents and Victorians until at least the end of November.