Day 16 test: health experts weigh proposal for post-quarantine coronavirus check | Health

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Australia’s top medical experts are to consider a national proposal to test returned travellers two days after exiting their fortnight of hotel quarantine as the federal government reveals its plan for proof-of-vaccination certificates.

Measures to further tighten Australia’s firm containment dominated political discussion on Sunday, while Australia recorded its third consecutive day of no new locally acquired cases of Covid-19.

At the weekend New South Wales Health began day 16 testing, with Victorian health authorities keen to implement the additional post-quarantine test and ask the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to nationalise the scheme.

South Australia will also consider adopting the extra test, with the state’s premier, Steven Marshall, saying his government will look at the measure “very carefully”.

In NSW returned travellers now receive a phone call two days after exiting hotel quarantine, in which they will be strongly encouraged to arrange an appointment at their local testing clinic.

The test is not mandatory and, if a returned traveller has no symptoms and agrees to the test, they will not have to isolate while waiting for results.

Returned travellers will continue to be tested on day two and 12 while in hotel quarantine, with the day 16 test designed to detect infections that develop after the 14-day incubation period on which Australia’s hotel quarantine program is based.

The measure follows New Zealand authorities discovering that a woman tested positive for Covid-19 after finishing her hotel quarantine in Auckland in January, despite testing negative twice during her hotel stay.

On Sunday Victoria’s health minister, Martin Foley, said health authorities would encourage returned travellers to take the day 16 test, but details – including whether those without symptoms who agree to the test would be exempt from isolating while awaiting the result – have not yet been finalised.

Victorian authorities also want the day 16 test to be rolled out nationally, with a database established so that information on who has reached the day 16 threshold can be shared between health jurisdictions.

A proposal is being worked on, with Victorian authorities keen to present the national plan when the AHPPC next meets.

On Sunday, with Australia’s vaccine rollout due to begin this month, the federal government also revealed its plan to issue proof-of-vaccination certificates that can be displayed on smartphones and carried as hard copies.

“The key things for Australians to know is: they will have a record, they will have a digital and paper certificate,” said the government services minister, Stuart Robert.

“Australians need to have that record, especially, depending on state public health orders, but also when travelling and borders open up again,” he said.

But Robert noted that state and territory health authorities would be in charge of determining what freedoms, including workplace returns and hospital and nursing home visitations, Australians would gain from being vaccinated.

“When it comes to public health orders, the states will determine that and I will leave it to state premiers and health ministers to roll out the public health orders as and when they see fit,” he said.

While Robert said the vaccine certificates would form an important part of an eventual resumption of international travel, he stressed that quarantine may still be required for international arrivals to Australia.

Meanwhile, the strict temperature requirements of the Pfizer vaccine mean last-minute jabs could be offered to people nearby to avoid wastage if a multi-dose vial was opened and couldn’t be delivered to priority recipients, the federal health department has said.

In Victoria, as Australian Open officials prepared for the first day of the tennis tournament on Monday, Foley said there was “still some way to go” before health authorities could declare the state has avoided another coronavirus outbreak.

This is because they will have to wait another week for the 14-day incubation period to have elapsed since a security guard working at one of the hotels being used to quarantine international tennis players tested positive to Covid-19.

“The signs are positive but this is not a time for complacency,” Foley said.

He said more than 50,000 people had now come forward for testing since that case emerged last week, with no new locally acquired cases so far detected.

About 72% of the 1,151 close contacts of the 26-year-old security guard have so far tested negative.

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