Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Quarantine Fees) Bill 2020
"Despite the now well understood risks associated with hotel quarantine, we agree with the need to resume hotel quarantine in Victoria and we agree that the fees should be similar to New South Wales, to prevent jurisdiction hopping. We do, however, have some concerns"
Dr READ (Brunswick): I am pleased to speak on this bill and I am even more pleased to see that more stranded Victorians will be returning home this summer. Despite the now well understood risks associated with hotel quarantine, we agree with the need to resume hotel quarantine in Victoria and we agree that the fees should be similar to New South Wales, to prevent jurisdiction hopping. We do, however, have some concerns, which we hope that the government will be addressing.
We know—indeed, all parties represented here I think know—that many of those returning will already be in significant financial hardship. Many of them have been stranded abroad for months. They have been having to pay for accommodation, some of them exorbitant airfares, some have gone without income, they may have lost a job, they may not have a place to stay, and they will be returning to an economy in recession. So these people will be under great stress, urgently looking for employment and housing when they come home. So it is in no-one’s interest that they spend significant time and energy trying to first of all survive hotel quarantine and then to fight off the debt collectors. With these self-evident cases of hardship, and particularly individuals with healthcare cards, there should be an automatic exemption from quarantine fees. There will be other less obvious cases where we want to see fee waivers or reductions expedited. I am sure I am not alone here in having helped constituents deal with financial hardship and get their fees waived from, for example, New South Wales Health.
Another key point about hotel quarantine and the arrangements proposed for Melbourne is that those people will be confined in inner city hotels with no access to fresh air or sunlight. For most people that may be tolerable, but imagine having a couple of small kids in tow. In many of these hotels you cannot open a window, let alone walk onto a balcony, and so we do urge the government to consider the psychological wellbeing of those in hotel quarantine and to look at other venues or safe ways of allowing access to sunshine and fresh air, which is so important to psychological health and returning to a different time zone.
The final point of concern I want to touch on are recent reports that doctors contracted to treat sick people in these hotels will also in the same week be treating their own patients. Considering that these staff will be potentially at the highest risk of all of acquiring COVID-19 in the next few months, I find this alarming. Given the difficulty that Victoria has had, and I do not need to go into any details, but also the difficulties that we have had in controlling the spread of this infection amongst trained and well-equipped hospital staff, we know that these doctors will be at high risk of infection and therefore so will their patients. Now, it is only for a few months that we really need to worry about this because these doctors will be among the first to be vaccinated. But if we need to pay a little bit more to address this issue, then it is probably going to be worth it. So with those remarks I will conclude and wish this legislation a speedy passage.
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