Australia and New Zealand are among the countries that have successfully reduced the transmission of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the infection has now infected over 111 million people globally.
In an attempt to mitigate the transmission of the virus, hotel-based quarantine as part of COVID-19 border control efforts was implemented. Incoming travelers must undergo a 14-day quarantine period in a hotel facility to make sure they do not carry the virus.
Though these countries are successful in keeping the number of cases down, researchers at the Department of Public Health, University of Otago Wellington, New Zealand, and the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, wanted to gauge the risk of failure when using hotel-based quarantine for COVID-19.
The researchers found a notable risk of failure with hotel quarantine in Australia and New Zealand. The two countries have collectively had 16 COVID-19 identified failures from hotel-based quarantine up to January 31, 2021. The two countries also have higher proportions of infected travelers, threatening both nations’ status in eliminating the illness.
The team recommends that urgent improvements to quarantine need to be implemented.
Many countries perform hotel-based quarantine for incoming residents from other countries and travelers. New Zealand and Australia have been successful in eliminating community transmission of COVID-19. Though there are occasional outbreaks, they have been brought under control.
In the hotel quarantine, passengers and travelers are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine period at a government-sanctioned hotel facility. After the 14-day quarantine combined with a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for SARS-CoV-2, the traveler is free to leave.
Converting hotels for quarantine purposes has the advantage of using resources that would otherwise be underused during the pandemic. There are international travel restrictions for both countries, so there are limited guests in hotels.
However, hotel quarantine can also have disadvantages. These include having to stay in shared spaces, leakage of the virus from health facility workers, and lack of proper ventilation.
The study, published on the preprint server medRxiv*, looks to determine if a hotel-based isolation facility is effective and feasible in mitigating the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
To arrive at the study findings, the researchers searched official websites in both countries and for the eight territories in Australia. This way, they can identify outbreaks and border control failures tied to hotel quarantine.
The team identified the failures by using common denominators, like the estimated number of travelers who went through the facilities and the number of SARS-CoV-2 positive people who went through the facilities simultaneously.
What they found
Based on all the tests, before January 31, 2021, Australia had seven failures, with once causing 800 deaths. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, there were nine failures, one causing an outbreak of three deaths and a lockdown.
The team estimated that the overall risks for both countries combined one failure per 20,702 travelers. The researchers used two denominators – the estimated number of deliveries per day and the number of COVID-19 cases.
“There appears to be a notable risk of failure with the use of hotel quarantine in these two countries. The large variation in infection control practices suggests an opportunity for risk reduction,” the researchers concluded.
“Another risk reduction practice would be using better facilities in rural locations as these have less risk from close contacts in CBD hotels and within-building spread from poor ventilation systems,” the team added.
The researchers concluded that to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 incursion out of quarantine substantially, the most obvious action is to reduce arrivals or even suspend arrivals from high infection locations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many countries, such as the U.S., the U.K., South Africa, India, and Brazil. The U.S. has the highest number of reported infections to date, with 28.18 million cases. Meanwhile, other countries report skyrocketing cases, including India, with over 11 million cases and Brazil, with more than 10 million.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.