Returned travellers undergoing hotel quarantine in Sydney will face strict new procedures before being released. The changes come as Australia tries to ward off new, highly infectious strains of COVID-19 from across the globe.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant on Saturday announced that when a person in quarantine tests positive for COVID-19, genomic sequencing would be carried out in a “timely” manner and be considered before their release.
The number of days a person who tests positive must remain in isolation following the onset of coronavirus symptoms will also be extended from 10 to 14 days following new medical guidance.
“We live in a global world and so all returning travellers are at increasing risk of having one of these mutations which need to be investigated,” Dr Chant said.
“We are putting safeguards in place and … we are managing our quarantine cases among overseas travellers differently.”
Previously, people who tested positive for a mild case of coronavirus could be discharged after 10 days from the onset of symptoms if they did not show any signs of the virus 72 hours earlier.
However, Communicable Disease Network Australia is now advising that this be extended from 10 to 14 days as a precaution.
Before a positive case leaves hotel quarantine, they will also now have to undergo an exit coronavirus antibody test, which will enable them to go if their result is negative.
If they still test positive – given remnants of the virus can linger – an expert medical panel will assess each case to determine if the person is still infectious before being released.
“No-one will be released without exit swabs or a clear understanding of their genomes and their genome sequence results,” Dr Chant said.
“People still may be released if they are PCR (antibody) positive but there will be an expert panel and additional testing around it.”
Dr Chant said the virus could be detected in people’s noses and throats up to four months after infection so the panel would ensure that people were not “permanently locked up”.
The number of places in hotel quarantine across NSW, Western Australia and Queensland was temporarily slashed in half under a national cabinet decision on Friday.
Scott Morrison said the international passenger caps would be reviewed in early February, as Australia manages the returning travellers that have been potentially exposed to new variants of the virus.
Caps in South Australia, Victoria and arrangements in the Northern Territory will remain in place.

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