NSW considers letting fully vaccinated travellers to quarantine at home for Christmas

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Fully vaccinated people returning to NSW will be able to quarantine in their homes by December if a new trial proves successful,raising the likelihood of stranded Australians making it home for Christmas.

The NSW government on Friday announced the home quarantine trial involving 175 people would be undertaken in October,with the isolation period halved from 14 to seven days for the participants.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian,Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres and Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Marianne Gale in Sydney on Friday.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian,Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres and Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Marianne Gale in Sydney on Friday.Rhett Wyman

NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres told theHerald that the trial was the first major step in reshaping the state’s quarantine system,which he was tasked with setting up last year. He added that he wanted to see the international arrival cap increased over the coming months.

“Today is the first step in removing hotel quarantine altogether for fully vaccinated people,” Mr Ayres said.

“This is also the first step in clawing back the $325 million in lost weekly economic activity that comes from being closed off to the world.”

The trial will run for four weeks,with the government already considering scaling up home quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers through November if it proves a success.

A senior government source speaking on the condition of anonymity said there were also discussions as to whether hotel quarantine would be required for fully vaccinated people at all in December.

Friday,September 17:NSW has recorded 1284 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths to 8pm last night.

The returning overseas travellers who have had two doses of a TGA-approved vaccine will be able to isolate for seven days at home instead of in a hotel,with the 175 pilot participants selected by health officials and police to include residents,non-Australian residents and Qantas aircrew.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state had processed more than 245,000 people through its hotel quarantine system since the beginning of the pandemic,but it needed to move on.

“Hotel quarantine has been an important line of defence throughout this pandemic,but as we move towards our vaccination targets,we have to look at new ways of doing things,” she said.

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The NSW announcement came as health officials confirmed that 15,000 people with COVID-19 are now being cared for by NSW Health either in the community,hospital or special health accommodation.

The latest NSW Health data shows “hospital in the home” cases rose to 3912 for the week ending September 14,an increase of more than 450 cases from the previous week.

South-west Sydney has about 3700 of the people being cared for at home,with the majority assessed as low risk.

South Western Sydney Local Health District chief executive Amanda Larkin revealed on Friday that scores of people deemed “low risk” were now given the option to receive automated calls to check on their health,rather than direct calls from a clinician or nurse.

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Patients who do not speak English are not included.

Patients assessed as medium or high risk are receiving up to two direct calls from a health worker each day.

The transition to automated calls was criticised by NSW opposition health spokesman Ryan Park,who warned that COVID-positive patients could deteriorate quickly,and needed daily interactions with trained health staff.

“Our health and hospital system across south-west Sydney is clearly under enormous stress when patients with COVID are getting automated calls instead of actually speaking to a nurse or doctor,” Mr Park said.

There have been 170 overseas acquired cases since the outbreak began up to August 28,including 16 in the past week,representing one per cent of the total cases in the state’s Delta outbreak.

NSW hit the 50 per cent double dose vaccination target for over 16s on Friday,with 50.58 per cent fully vaccinated and about 81 per cent with one dose.

The state recorded 1284 COVID-19 cases on Friday and 12 new deaths,six men and six women,including two people in their 20s. There are 1245 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital,with 228 people in intensive care,112 of whom require ventilation.

It was the third consecutive day when 12 deaths were reported,bringing the total toll for the outbreak to 222.

One woman in her 20s from western Sydney,who died at Nepean Hospital,had one dose of a vaccine another woman in her 20s,who died at Gosford Hospital,was a resident of the Life Without Barriers group home in Wyong,where she contracted the virus.

Meanwhile,Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said NSW’s home quarantine trial was an important step towards restarting international travel,but wanted to see the rules relaxed further as more of the population is vaccinated.

Qantas is set to resume regular international flights from December 18,based on the belief that the federal government will reopen Australia’s international border before Christmas. The airline has flights scheduled to London,the US,Singapore,Canada,Fiji and Japan from December 18 to 20.

Surging local infections led to overseas arrivals being cut by half last month,with 750 people allowed to return to NSW each week until the state hits vaccination targets.

“This will build on evidence collected through the South Australian trial as part of the national plan where we utilise technology,particularly facial recognition and location-based services apps on your phone,to allow police and health to continue to check in on a person during their home-based quarantine,” Mr Ayres said.

It is not clear if future home-based quarantine arrangements would lock out people who have received vaccines not approved by the TGA,such as Sputnik V,Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond welcomed the state government trial and supported its plan to transition the hotel industry back towards its original purpose.

With Josh Dye

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Tom Rabe is Transport Reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.

Lucy Carroll is a reporter covering health for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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