The health program director at the Grattan Institute says Queensland and Western Australia have done the right thing keeping their borders closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Stephen Duckett, author of the report ‘Coming out of COVID Lockdown: The next steps for Australian health care’, says while Victoria continues to see a surge in cases, there is a risk of people bringing the virus into those states.
“We know that people are asymptomatic for a while when they are infectious,” he said.
“If they want to come to Queensland or Western Australia, they should be quarantined for two weeks, just as people coming into Australia are quarantined.”
Mr Duckett has also backed the idea of a ‘travel bubble’, where people from some states are allowed to travel outside their borders.
“If it is safe to allow people from New South Wales to come in, people from New South Wales should be allowed to come in because the tourism industry is very, very important in Queensland,” he said.
“But if it’s not safe and it runs the risk of COVID-19 escalating again and we go back into this exponential growth phase, it’s just not worth it for them to open their borders.”
He says the current mandatory quarantining of people arriving from overseas must remain in place until a vaccine has been developed.
Report recommends extending support for workers without sick leave entitlements
The report made several other recommendations, including extending support for workers who do not have sick leave entitlements.
Mr Duckett says casual workers may feel financial pressure to work even if they are feeling unwell.
“Just as they’ve introduced the Jobkeeper and Jobseeker allowances … they should introduce a protection allowance, a sick leave allowance, for people who might otherwise end up at work and end up spreading the disease,” he said.
Over the weekend, the Victorian Government announced it would offer $1,500 to workers who don’t have access to paid sick leave, if they test positive to coronavirus or are a close contact.
Queensland has a similar program in place and Council of Small Business Chief Executive Officer Peter Strong has called on other states to follow suit.
The Federal Government said some casuals may be able to access JobSeeker if they need further assistance.
The report also recommends the Federal Government expand the telehealth system.
Mr Duckett says instead of expanding “bricks and mortar” public hospitals, the states should assess whether it would be better to instead expand out-of-hospital and telehealth services.
“The health system pivoted dramatically during the pandemic,” he said.
“Things that were talked about for decades suddenly were implemented on the spur of the moment.
“One of the good things that happened was telehealth … and at the moment they’ve said this is going to come to an end in September.
“What we really need to do is say ‘This has been really good for the health system, really convenient it’s improved access dramatically so we need to have some form of telehealth really part of the health system for the future.'”
The report has also recommended boosting mental health care and support services for domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse.
“It’s one of the risks of being in lockdown and it’s one of the things that we have to deal with and it’s one of those things you can deal with telehealth,” he said.
“You can actually make those services much more available and we should be saying ‘How are we going to address this increase in demand that we should foresee?”’
Mr Duckett says when the time comes that Australia has no active COVID 19 cases we should see the removal of capacity constraints on workplaces, shops and hospitality.
He says also says people should start moving freely within and between states.
“So when it’s safe we should be able to do whatever we can to open up the economy again, but until it’s safe we shouldn’t be,” he said.
The report recommends that testing must remain a routine part of life. If local cases are identified, contact tracers must be at the ready and widespread testing should restart in affected areas.