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Nick Wilson on quarantine facilities and testing for Covid before people fly

Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive

One of the country's top public health academics thinks the Government should stop using hotels to quarantine people who test positive for the virus.
University of Otago professor of public health Nick Wilson says if officials are serious about wanting to reduce another large outbreak, purpose-built facilities should be used.
"[The Government] should also seriously study the pros/cons of purpose-built quarantine facilities in places such as Ōhakea Airbase," he told the Science Media Centre.
"A cost-benefit analysis that took into account the huge economic cost of the recent Auckland outbreak, might tip the balance towards having a high-quality approach to quarantine facilities."
It comes as director of public health Dr Caroline McElnay confirmed there are 12 new cases of Covid-19 today, all in managed isolation.
Ten of the cases arrived on a flight from India on September 26, flight AI1354, spread out between rows 14 and 41.
The theory is the travellers were infected before boarding the flight. Genomic testing is yet to be completed, but results could suggest if the virus was transmitted mid-flight.
Of the remaining two cases, one arrived on a flight from the United States on September 26 and tested positive on day three of their stay.
The 12th case arrived from the Philippines via Taiwan on September 23. They were tested because they were a contact of another case and tested positive yesterday.
On August 23, 17 people on a flight from India tested positive for Covid-19 while in quarantine over the following weeks.
The large number of cases arriving into New Zealand imposed extra burden and risk onto the quarantine system, Wilson said.
"It should prompt serious work by health authorities to lower the risks further.
"This could be by requiring pre-test screening (eg, a negative PCR test for the pandemic virus in the 48 hours before departure) in countries with high pandemic spread and where cases exceed a particular threshold of new cases per million population per day.
"This threshold should be set at a level to cover those on flights from countries with poorly controlled pandemic spread such as the UK, the US and India."
A negative test before flying would reduce the burden on the quarantine system here and it would also reduce the risk of outbreaks spreading on planes, he said.
"This system would need to be carefully evaluated and if successful it could be rolled out to flights from all countries where Covid-19 is circulating, even at low levels."
- text by Luke Kirkness, NZ Herald
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