SA Health planning COVID quarantine camps in case of outbreak

EXCLUSIVE | SA Health is looking to urgently set up quarantine facilities able to accommodate more than 100 people in Renmark, Port Augusta, Port Lincoln and Mt Gambier due to concerns about vulnerable and Indigenous people unable to quarantine at home during a COVID-19 outbreak.

Nov 23, 2021, updated Nov 23, 2021
Cabins are used at the Northern Territory's Howard Springs quarantine centre. Photo: AAP/Glenn Campbell

Cabins are used at the Northern Territory's Howard Springs quarantine centre. Photo: AAP/Glenn Campbell

SA Health opened a tender on Monday calling for expressions of interest from organisations that can provide “services for the effective quarantine of vulnerable persons who have been identified as close contacts” and “culturally appropriate and safe quarantine conditions”.

“It has been identified that facilities would be required for the quarantining of persons who would otherwise be unable to home quarantine due to their living circumstances,” the procurement document states.

“It has been identified that various sites will be required for use as facilities, due to the vulnerability of persons in multiple communities, including Port Augusta, Port Lincoln, Renmark and Mount Gambier.”

The tender makes specific reference to 14-day quarantine periods – mandatory for unvaccinated close contacts – as opposed to the seven-day quarantine requirement for vaccinated contacts.

It goes on to outline that the quarantine facilities will be in the form of cabins.

“Full cabin cleans will need to take place at the end of the two-week quarantine period,” the document states.

“The time between one group exiting the facility and the next will be relatively short, so the cleaning and any repairs will need to be well-coordinated.

“If there is a positive COVID case, the cabin will require a deep clean by a SA Health approved contractor.”

Any patient requiring hospital assessment at the facilities will be transferred to the Berri Hospital Emergency Department in the Riverland, the tender states, while workers who test positive will be transferred to an Adelaide medi-hotel along with other employees in their “cohort pod”.

The tender specifies that the facilities would be overseen by SA Health but managed “day to day” by the successful tenderer, who will be responsible for services such as translation, cultural support, religion, cleaning requirements and general administration.

Among the “mandatory criteria” for applicants is an “ability to accommodate 100 or more residents” and an “ability to mobilise on or before 10 December 2021”.

Applications for the tender close on Friday.

Regarding the timeline to set up the facilities, the tender states that the “sites will be available from dates still to be determined, with a preference from 30 November to 30 June”.

“With the relaxation of border restrictions from 23 November 2021, it is anticipated that COVID-19 could potentially impact regional and vulnerable communities,” the document continues.

“The objective of this procurement is to seek proposals from interested organisations that could offer suitable quarantine facilities for communities that have been identified as having significant populations of vulnerable community members or are expecting a high number of travellers, which may make home quarantine challenging.”

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In the “background” section of the document, SA Health raises specific concerns about “Aboriginal people and community’s vulnerability to the adverse effects of COVID-19 due to higher rates of pre-existing and undiagnosed chronic disease … generally poorer housing infrastructure, overcrowding and high mobility”.

The cultural aspect of the quarantine is significant and should be recognised as an essential component in any planning process.

“In addition, some Aboriginal community’s socio-cultural practices may place them at higher risk of transmission because they involve mobilisation and participation in communal cultural activities,” the document states.

Just 46.7 per cent of South Australia’s Aboriginal population over the age of 16 is fully vaccinated as of Sunday – more than 10 points behind the national average for Aboriginal people and more than 30 points behind South Australia’s statewide average.

“The cultural aspect of the quarantine is significant and should be recognised as an essential component in any planning process as it relates to the ability of the worker to adapt, socialise and maintain good mental health,” the tender states.

SA Health’s concern that vulnerable close contacts in regional communities may not be able to quarantine safely comes after the state today opened to more than 30,000 fully vaccinated travellers from Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT.

The State Government announced over the weekend that its new HealthCheckSA app has been built to monitor up to 50,000 people undertaking home quarantine.

In response to questions from InDaily, an SA Health spokesperson said they are “currently investigating options for regional quarantine facilities that will allow for a rapid response to a COVID-19 outbreak”. 

“The vast majority of COVID-positive people will be treated in the home via virtual care, if needed, with only the more vulnerable cases – approximately 10 per cent of cases – requiring care in a quarantine facility,” the spokesperson said.

“We expect only five per cent of cases will require hospitalisation.

“Acutely unwell COVID-positive patients in regional areas will continue to be transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for treatment as per existing healthcare processes.”

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