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A government minister has defended the rules in England on quarantine hotels for arrivals from high-risk countries, after it emerged they are less stringent than those in Australia.
The English system, which comes into effect on Monday, allows quarantined travellers to go outside for air or a cigarette if accompanied by a member of staff, unlike in the Australian model, which was introduced early last year. Even with its stricter rules, Australia has experienced outbreaks of Covid-19 among staff at quarantine hotels and their family members.
Asked why people were to be allowed out of their rooms in quarantine hotels despite concerns that it could facilitate the spread of coronavirus, the Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Apart from anything else we know that being outside is less likely to transmit than being inside. But I think allowing someone to go for fresh air during a 10-day visit in a hotel with all the very strict measures that we have, I think, is reasonable.”
A document detailing the UK government’s official requirements for hotel operators, seen by the BBC, showed the rules to be weaker than Australia in other aspects as well. Security guards and hotel staff will not be tested regularly – in Australia they are paid to take the test daily – nor will guards be given a higher specification mask, unlike in Australia.
The BBC reported that the UK government document simply stated that if staff tested positive or showed Covid symptoms, “they must be advised to stay home and not to report to work”. It also said standard surgical masks must be worn. However, these are thinner and are thought to be less effective at blocking aerosols than N95 masks, roughly equivalent to what is called an FFP2 in the UK, which are specified for use in the Australian state of Victoria.
Despite its tougher rules, Australia has continued to experience outbreaks at quarantine hotels. An inquiry heard in August last year that 99% of cases in Victoria were linked to quarantine hotels. On Friday, the state announced a snap five-day “circuit breaker” lockdown, after an outbreak at a Holiday Inn hotel in Melbourne housing quarantined travellers.
Prof Michael Toole, an epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute in Australia, told the Today programme: “All our preventive measures have focused on preventing spread by these large droplets. Keeping people in their room, wearing surgical masks and using hand sanitiser prevents that, it does not prevent airborne transmission. So we’ve had cases where a guest who is infected opened their door and, with positive pressure, this kind of fog of virus went out into the corridor, travelled down and infected hotel staff.”
Asked about Toole’s comments, Atkins said: “I’m certainly not claiming to be more expert than him but just in terms of the policy development, you know, of course we will keep this under review, but we are confident that the measures that we have in place, ready to go on Monday, are strong and that they will help to protect our country from any of these new variables that are being found.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Minister defends England’s softer hotel quarantine rules | World news