We’re friends with a couple who live in Melbourne, Australia. She, A____, is American, he, R____, is Australian. I read about the strict COVID-19 quarantine measures being applied in Melbourne and other Australian cities, and texted A____ to ask how things are going for them. Her reply gave me a glimpse into how seriously they’re taking the pandemic there. I thought it would be helpful to my American friends to share our exchange of messages, and with A____’s permission am doing so.
Update (7/10/20): I added a second exchange of texts with A____, addressing domestic travel restrictions in Australia.
Update (7/11/20): Here’s a first-person narrative of traveling from the USA to Australia and entering the 14-day hotel quarantine in Sydney, posted to Twitter by American/Australian writer Chloe Angyal. She is still in quarantine (currently on Day 8) and posting additional updates on her Twitter account. Among those updates: travel to Australia has been further limited since her arrival; the government is going to start charging people placed in quarantine for their hotel accommodations.
Me: I see Melbourne is locked down … the entire state as well? We’re all hunkered down here as well.
A____: Yes, all of “greater Melbourne” and another county. And people are prohibited from “escaping” to their country/beach homes, should they have them — they need to stay at their main address. We’re back to the restrictions we had in March — you should stay home as much as possible, can only go out for food/supplies, medical/care, exercise, work if required.
Cafes and restaurants which had just reopened with limited in-house seating are now back to takeaway only. (Naturally, some rushed to dine out on the last allowed night!). It will be for 6 weeks.
The main cause seems to be the security guards hired to oversee the returned travelers quarantined in hotels (where R____ has been working, by the way, in the medical advice rooms). There’s a Dr and 3-4 nurses on hand in shifts, 24/7, but the security guards both guard the hallways so no one leaves their room and accompany passengers on their once-a-week outside walks. The problem is they didn’t get very much training in infection control — one guard described his training as “5 minutes” — and/or they haven’t taken it seriously (there are reports of “assignations” with passengers in their rooms). Other states used the military, and were more successful in containing contamination!
Me: One big difference here is no one’s enforcing traveler quarantine, or even travel. Nothing to stop me from driving to another state, no quarantine when I get there, unless I have the discipline to do it myself.
A____: Yes, several people here said they flew into the US from overseas and there was nothing! Whereas here they get put in hotels for 2 weeks enforced quarantine.
(Update) 7/9/20 texts:
Me: A___, a follow-on question. Can Australians travel freely within Australia? I get the impression some states and cities are under lockdown. Does that mean there are border guards on the roads between NSW & Vic, for example? Controls on domestic flights and train travel?
A____: No — because Yes! There are now, only as of this week, border guards and checks at the airports etc. Several states have banned us Victorians.
Just FYI, the docs & nurses (inc 1 mental health nurse) on each hotel shift are mainly there to answer questions and prescribe/get/help with any needed meds. They mostly sit in a conference room with phones, tho sometimes they must go to a room to check on the detainees (& they wear full PPE when they do). Also, there are “booze bus”-type traffic stops all over; they are checking that people aren’t leaving home for non-allowed reasons and also that they’re not travelling too far from home. R____ was quarantined at home a couple of weeks ago when someone he may have worked near tested positive. The cops visited twice to make sure he was home! We have a couple of border cities (eg Albury & Wodonga) where there has been much confusion & upset, as permits are now required for those in Wodonga (in Vic) to go into Albury (NSW) or anywhere else in NSW.
A____’s description of the mandatory hotel quarantine made an impression on me. All travelers arriving in Australia, citizens and foreigners alike, are confined in quarantine accommodations (hotel rooms) for 14 days. Private security guards (in some places military guards) patrol the hotels to ensure those in lockdown don’t leave, and each quarantine hotel has medical people on site (her husband R____, a nurse, is apparently on detached duty from the hospital where he normally works).
What we call quarantine here in the US is another animal. As I commented to A____, anyone here can fly or drive anywhere in the US, even though some US states (like my own, Arizona) are experiencing world-record rates of infection, more severe than the rates in Australia. Moreover, when we get to where we’re going, quarantine’s on the honor system: travelers from Arizona and other hot-spot states arriving in Kansas or New York, for instance, are supposed to put themselves in quarantine for 14 days, but there’s no hotel or other quarantine facility. You’re supposed to find your own place to hunker down, either in an airport Marriott or the home of the people you came to visit, and the government’s trusting you to comply. No one, except maybe in Hawaii, is keeping track of where arriving travelers say they’re going to isolate themselves. No one’s checking up to see if they’re complying. No one’s following through on … well, anything.
My discussion with A____ is ongoing. This morning I asked her about domestic travel restrictions in Australia; whether citizens and residents can travel freely within the country. From my reading of the news, some states and cities are under lockdown. Does that mean there are literal border checkpoints on roads between states, or controls on who can board planes and trains? I’ll update this post as I learn more.
Travel restrictions in the US, I think, would be even more unpopular than mandatory quarantine. It’s hard for me to imagine either being enforced in this country. Even public-spirited Americans, those of us happy and willing to do our part to slow the spread of the disease by sheltering in place and wearing masks when we do have to go out in public, would be outraged if the government were to tell us we couldn’t get in our cars and go somewhere, never mind put us in lockdown for two weeks when we get there.
Despite the fact that COVID-19 is hitting the USA harder than it’s hitting any other country, there’s no political will here for mandatory quarantine or travel restrictions. Are you kidding? It’s an election year! Spending taxpayer money to put travelers up in hotels, feed them, and pay guards to make sure they stay there? Surely you jest!
And then there’s Trump. Pandemic? What pandemic?
Update: Domestic travel restrictions, as I thought, have been imposed and are being enforced in the Australian states of Victoria and at least parts of New South Wales. When I said earlier I couldn’t imagine similar restrictions in the USA, I didn’t mean it can’t happen.
As long as Trump remains in denial, the federal government will probably refuse to clamp down on domestic travel inside the USA. States, though, may take action if they deem it necessary. I can see California, for example, turning away arriving travelers at highway border checkpoints, airports, and train stations. It would be an enormous undertaking, and expensive, probably akin to the establishment of the DHS and TSA in the wake of 9/11, only at state rather than federal level … which appears to be the way they’re doing it in Australia (private security guards in quarantine hotels in Victoria, military troops in other states).
From A____’s most recent text message, above: “R____ was quarantined at home a couple of weeks ago when someone he may have worked near tested positive. The cops visited twice to make sure he was home!”
I mentioned earlier that from what I’m reading, Hawaii may be the one US state actually checking on arrivals during their quarantine periods. Hawaii has always had a strict quarantine on imported pets. Dogs and cats used to go into state-run facilities for four months, but birds could stay in home quarantine so long as they weren’t allowed outside of their cages. When we were posted to Hawaii in 1992 we had to surrender our cat (she was old and wound up dying in quarantine) but were allowed to quarantine our parrot Skipper at home, and sure enough, animal control actually came to our house once during the quarantine period to make sure Skipper was in her cage!
What I’m saying with that stupid parrot story is that imposing domestic travel restrictions would be an enormous and expensive undertaking, but if we get desperate enough, I can see some states doing it … Hawaii already is.
And don’t imagine for a minute Aussies are any different from us when it comes to valuing personal freedoms and resisting restrictions. Enforcement officials have their hands full in Melbourne these days!
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