South Australia’s policy of only testing staff at medi-hotels when they have coronavirus symptoms has been widely criticised by medical experts as the state scrambles to contain a dangerous outbreak in the community.
The first locally acquired infection in SA since April has been traced to a cleaner working at a hotel in central Adelaide that housed quarantine travellers.
Staff weren’t required to be regularly tested but this has changed as the number of infections from the cluster climbs to 20 with fears it will increase further.
“There’s no evidence of a breach of protocols at these places,” SA Health Minister Stephen Wade told the ABC on Tuesday morning.
RELATED: How Adelaide’s outbreak started
“Routine testing has been available at medi-hotels on an ongoing basis and there are daily declarations of symptoms by medi-hotel workers.
“But regular seven-day testing has been introduced at the medi-hotels.”
The previous testing policy was described as a “breakdown in systems” by former World Health Organisation epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman.
“Many hotels should’ve been secure,” he told Today on Monday morning from Adelaide.
“But my understanding is that people weren’t tested on a regular basis, and SA Health have now ordered all people working at the hotels be tested weekly. I’m surprised this wasn’t happening before now.
“Our medi-hotels should be safe, and especially after the Victorian fiasco, where we saw the huge second wave occurring because of a breakdown in the systems in their quarantine hotels.”
Farmers near South Australia’s border with Victoria who regularly travelled from one state to another were forced to be tested weekly despite there being no traces of the virus in the region.
But staff working close the deadly virus at the medi-hotel facilities weren’t exposed to the same testing requirements.
SA Premier Steven Marshall admitted he initially held reservations about this policy.
“I did query that situation but I was provided with advice that what we were doing was based upon best practice at the time,” he told ABC Breakfast in Adelaide on Monday morning.
“Obviously you look at that in light of individual outbreaks but the feeling was that it was much better to rely on people who develop symptoms to get themselves tested immediately because if you had a regular weekly test people would say ‘I’ll just wait until then’.
“This is not something where you can wait a week to go and get tested and this is a really important reminder for every single South Australian.”
Deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd recommended South Australians wear face masks until health authorities got the cluster under control.
“Particularly people who are at increased risk if they were to be infected with COVID-19,” Prof Kidd told ABC.
“The recommendation in Adelaide at the moment is for people who are vulnerable to stay at home while this is determined exactly what’s happening with the outbreak, whether there has been any community transmission or not.
“If people do leave their homes and they’re particularly vulnerable, to wear a mask, especially if they’re going on public transport or into situations where they may not be able to physically distance from other people.”