Hotels queried by quarantine expert

A quarantine camp during the Spanish flu pandemic. Photo courtesy State Library of SA: PRG 1638/2/99

AUSTRALIA should look to the lessons of past pandemics and use purpose-built quarantine facilities for international travellers, says an expert in the country’s historic maritime quarantine system.

Ruth Johnson, who will be giving a talk on the Spanish flu’s impact on Western Australia at the Vincent Local History Centre on May 26, says authorities can look back at what worked and what didn’t to formulate its response to Covid-19.

Covid leaks

Earlier this month prime minister Scott Morrison revealed that his government was considering an approach from the Victorian government to fund a purpose-built quarantine centre on Commonwealth-owned land; it would be the first of its kind in the modern era and follows a spate of Covid leaks from hotel quarantine.

Ms Johnson said historically police would be stationed outside the perimeter fence of a quarantine centre, but in the current hotel quarantine regime security guards sit on each floor and then return home each day.

“If you are working at a quarantine centre, you should be staying there,” Ms Johnson said.

Mr Morrison also flagged “vaccination passports” on Wednesday as a way of allowing Australians to travel interstate despite lockdowns and outbreaks, hinting they could also be used for returning international travellers.

But Ms Johnson was already ahead on that issue, saying it would pose questions about policing the system.

“If quarantine centres are full, do we stop international travel at that point,” she pondered.

But Ms Johnson Australia’s isolation and the co-operation between states (bickering over hard borders notwithstanding) were major factors in Australia’s great record in keeping the coronavirus in check; the United States defied its name to allow it to flourish.

“Miami has no idea what Florida is doing, and Florida has no idea what New York is doing,” she says. 

Mrs Johnson says her presentation will outline the various state and metropolitan lockdowns of then and now, the similarities of people being locked out of their own state, and how people dealt with it and moved on with a post-war “female mindset” that allowed them to adapt.  

The Spanish Flu in Western Australia is from 10-11.30am next Wednesday. Bookings essential on 9273 6090 or local.history@vincent.


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