Fifty Qantas aircrew will take part in a home-isolation trial in NSW that will pave the way for the abolition of hotel quarantine for international arrivals.
In total, 175 people will be allowed to stay at home for seven days, rather than in a supervised facility for 14, and the trial will begin this month. It has been suggested location-based apps and facial recognition technology could be used to ensure compliance.
It significantly comes weeks after Qantas announced it would restart international travel in December, when 80 per cent of the state’s population will be double jabbed.
The trial will initially include 175 people who will be selected by NSW Health and may include the state’s residents, non-Australians and Qantas air crew.
NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said, “We have been working with Qantas aircrew and staff for a number of months now and will include some of those people in this trial to conduct their quarantine at home.”
Minister Ayres hailed the move as an “important step” that has been driven by the accelerated vaccine take-up.
“This is a trial, and about testing different types of accommodation, apartments, and homes,” said Minister Ayres.
“We want to ensure we get the spread right. This isn’t about prioritising individuals or people who have been overseas. It’s about ensuring we conduct the trial properly and build the base of evidence, so we can remove our hotel quarantine system for the majority of people who are coming into Australia.
“We can’t stay closed forever. We’ve got to be able to learn what happens when we put people into home-based quarantine.
“Australia must reopen. We must get rid of lockdowns, we must get rid of home quarantine, we must re-engage with the world.
“Sydney is a global city and it must engage with the globe. This is an important step in that direction.”
The trial will only apply to those who have been double vaccinated with Australian-approved vaccines, and would build on evidence collected through an earlier SA trial.
In December 2020, NSW introduced two new major quarantine rule changes for international air crew in response to an alleged breach of existing guidance.
Crews from Qantas repatriation flights are now normally required to take a COVID test before being allowed to isolate for 14 days, while those from non-Australian airlines have to stay in two police-supervised hotels.
Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported Australia would welcome rapid antigen COVID-19 testing for at-home use ahead of the planned introduction of home quarantine and the restart of international travel.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he is awaiting reply from Australia’s medical regulator to approve widespread use of rapid antigen tests, both for use in homes and workplaces.
Rapid antigen tests involve small nasal swabs, and can be self administered. The sample is placed into a chemical solution, which then gives a positive or negative result within 30 minutes.
While these tests are considered not to be as accurate as standard PCR tests, the fact that they are self-administered make them an easy screening tool for COVID. These tests are widely used in other countries to manage self-isolation, particularly for travel purposes
“We want to see Australians to be able to travel overseas at the earliest possible time,” Minister Hunt said.
“I’m hopeful that these tests will be available at the earliest possible time for workplaces, and then subsequently, once we have the support of the AHPPC [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee], within the home.”