Canberra academic in hotel quarantine reveals gaps in virus detection system

Dr Yohannes Kinfu working inside his hotel room in Sydney. Picture: Supplied
Dr Yohannes Kinfu working inside his hotel room in Sydney. Picture: Supplied

A high-level academic from the University of Canberra has told of "chaos" when he landed in Sydney and was put into fourteen days of quarantine.

Associate Professor Yohannes Kinfu returned to Australia on March 29. As someone coming from abroad, he was put on a bus to be quarantined for 14 days either at the Hilton or InterContinental.

As a leading expert in the way diseases spread, he immediately noticed serious gaps in the system.

His bag, for example, was handled by eight different people between the airport and the hotel. None were wearing gloves so the virus could have been passed between them and spread quickly.

Passengers' temperatures were tested at immigration to see if there were any signs of fever but there was no definitive test for the virus.

People from different flights and from a cruise ship were all put in the same hotel.

"When I arrived the scene was chaotic," he said.

The bus and the hotel arrival were a contrast with the very ordered situation on arrival at the airport where people were told by soldiers and police to keep a safe distance from each other.

"There was confusion as people were told to get onto buses and then off them to determine whether they would go to the Hilton or the InterContinental."

Passengers from different parts of the world and from a cruise ship were mixed together.

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Dr Kinfu is now in isolation at the five-star InterContinental hotel. He is confined to his room 24 hours a day, so there can't be cross-infection but initially the possibility was there, he says.

"I didn't see the social distancing at the hotel which I saw at the airport," he said.

He emphasises that he has no complaints about the soldiers and police who helped him move his baggage.

"This is not a complaint but we need to close the gaps," he said.

"The police and the soldiers were very helpful. They need praise for their friendliness."

He is unhappy with the way information was collected because people from different parts of the world weren't separated.

The expert on the spread of disease said that this mixing meant it would be very hard to identify the source of COVID-19 if it emerges in anybody in the mixed group.

Some people in quarantine in five-star hotels in Sydney have complained. One is reported to have said that food came in a plastic container and was "unidentifiable" with chunks of it still frozen.

Dr Kinfu has no complaints like that. He spends every hour in the room but he has books and, as a researcher, he spends his time on the internet.

Food is left outside the door and someone rings the room to tell him it's there. He doesn't eat salt but that is not a problem because he is allowed to order in one meal a day.

He still has more than a week of quarantine to go but he is fretting over how to get to his home in Crace in the ACT where his wife is. He hasn't seen her for three months since he started his research trip to Ethiopia and Qatar.

They have discussed her going to Sydney but ruled it out because she would then have to go into isolation, too.

"I have to travel to the ACT. Should I take a flight?" he asked.

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This story 'The scene was chaotic': academic in hotel quarantine reveals gaps in virus detection system first appeared on The Canberra Times.