Around 160 Australians will arrive in Canberra on a repatriation flight from Chennai, India today, ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said, although the exact number will only be known upon landing as the Federal Government coordinates the flights.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT was very pleased to be playing a part in returning Australians from overseas and welcoming them to the ACT as their “first point of call”.
She said the Government expected another flight in March and was talking to the Commonwealth about receiving regular flights over the next six months.
“We’re certainly very happy to do that,” Ms Stephen- Smith said.
“In some ways it’s easier to manage a hotel quarantine program that is ongoing than one that stops and starts. That provides greater certainty to staff and people can maintain that rhythm.”
There is only one Canberra hotel able to provide the specific requirements of fresh air, balcony and kitchenette required to participate in the program, meaning the ACT can only welcome one flight at a time.
Ms Stephen-Smith said those requirements allowed for passengers’ cultural and dietary needs to be met.
“And it gives structure to people’s day and gives them something to do,” she said.
“Maintaining mental health in quarantine is really, really important.”
The returning Australians have all had a negative test within 72 hours prior to boarding the flight.
The day they return to Australia is considered day zero. They will be tested on day one and again on day 10-12.
Ms Stephen-Smith said if there was a positive case on the flight, it would depend on the circumstances of the case as to which actions or restrictions would be required.
“If it’s our first case, it may mean a short sharp shutdown. But that’s not necessarily the case,” she said.
“It would really depend on how quickly we identity the case and how many places they had visited as to how quickly contact tracing could be done.”
New hotel quarantine measures
Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government had reviewed “all the arrangements in relation to the management of the hotel quarantine” and had implemented some changes.
Chief amongst them was daily saliva tests for hotel quarantine staff as a back-up for the usual nasal swab tests every seven days.
“One thing to highlight here in the ACT is the floors on which those individuals are quarantining are considered “red zones” and anybody entering those zones are required to be wearing PPE (personal protective equipment).
“So we don’t have security sitting on those floors, outside of people’s rooms, on a permanent basis.
“Police and Australian Defence Force will be maintaining security at a hotel level, but anyone entering those floors will require full PPE. That does include face shields as well.”
ACT will ‘mirror’ NSW and Victorian requirements
Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government would “mirror the requirements” of the NSW and Victorian governments for anyone who had been to an identified location.
She urged Canberrans who had been to South-East Sydney or Wollongong recently to check the NSW Health website and follow the instructions.