Experiences of risk in Australian hotel quarantine: a qualitative study
Bridget Haire, Gwendolyn L Gilbert, John M Kaldor, David Hendrickx, Angus Dawson, Jane H Williams
BMC Public Health volume 22, Article number: 953 (2022), published 12 May 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-13339-x
In response to the threat of COVID-19 infection, Australia mandated a 14 day quarantine period in a designated facility for all travellers returning from overseas from late March 2020. These facilities were usually hotels, or hotel-like serviced apartments, and also included a repurposed former mining village in the Northern Territory. This paper aimed to investigate the experiences of risk of people quarantined in designated supervised facilities in Australia, which has not been systematically explored before.
In this qualitative study semi-structured interviews were conducted with 58 participants quarantined between March 2020 and January 2021. Participants were returned Australian citizens and residents who were required to undergo mandatory supervised quarantine for COVID-19. Interviews were conducted using video teleconferencing (via Zoom), transcribed and coded, then analysed thematically.
While participants generally supported the concept of quarantine to protect the Australian public, they were critical of elements of it where they felt exposed to risk (COVID-related or not). They also described instances where infection control within the system seemed inadequate. For some, particularly those quarantined with small children, they reported that the facilities were inadequate or inappropriate for health and wellbeing. Using thematic analysis, three major themes were identified that related to problems in the existing system: perception of being subjected to high risk through lax standards of COVID protection in the quarantine process; risks to the community identified in quarantine; and risk in non-hotel managed quarantine facilities.
There are systemic issues with infection control in hotel quarantine, which can be further undermined by individual non-compliance. Risks to safety for those in quarantine can be reduced, both in terms of infection control within hotel quarantine and, in the case of the Northern Territory facility, timely in-person medical care as needed for non-COVID conditions. Systems of infection control need ongoing review to ensure that people entering quarantine are protected from known risks of infection at every stage. Medical services in quarantine facilities should be examined to ensure timely and appropriate non-COVID medical services are available.