Australia’s interstate and international borders could now be carefully reopened – pumping up to $85 billion back into the economy – as time spent in mandatory quarantine is slashed under a new, risk-based mathematical modelling tool presented to policymakers this week.
Passengers arriving from places of origin categorised as moderate or low-risk would see their required quarantine cut to a maximum of eight days – and some travellers from very low risk areas would serve no quarantine time at all – under the traQ (Transparent Risk Assessment of Quarantine) model independently developed by the Burnet Institute with funding from Minderoo Foundation.
The reduced quarantine periods were key findings of a Burnet Institute report that accompanied the presentation of the new risk-based model. The traQ model considers, among other things, the prevalence of the virus in the place of travel origin, risk during transit, and requires enhanced testing involving two negative tests near the end of the quarantine period.
The report concludes that the current 14-day quarantine period can be reduced to seven or eight days in many (but not all) circumstances, and even to zero in one circumstance, without increasing the risk of virus escape.
By implementing the traQ model and its risk-based approach in combination with enhanced PCR testing, Minderoo Foundation COVID-19 Response lead Dr Steve Burnell said: “Australia could quickly, safely and sensibly manage the re-opening of our interstate and international borders – turbocharging the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession.
“At the moment we have industries – agriculture, tourism, and the tertiary education sectors to name just a few – absolutely crippled by the closure of our borders. Universal 14-day quarantine is an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach that is adversely impacting the Australian economy and countless people’s lives.” Dr Burnell said.
“That would all change under a risk-based quarantine strategy. Even at today’s travel volumes, the number of person-days spent in managed hotel quarantine required could be reduced by up to 49,000 per month.”
“Without meaningfully increasing the risk of COVID-19 importation, such tailored, evidence-based approaches could reduce the cost of quarantine to the taxpayer, mitigate the significant physical and mental health effects of 14-day isolation and deliver up to $85 billion in economic benefits as travel resumes to pre-COVID levels.”
For international travellers, the traQ model assigns each country of origin into one of five categories ranging from very high to very low risk. The classification is based on the estimated prevalence of COVID-19 in that country, as well as the level of COVID-19 testing within the country. Risk of infection during travel is also considered in the model.
Domestic travel is currently in the very low risk category for all Australian states and territories, suggesting internal borders could now open under the traQ model.
Dr Burnell said the Burnet Institute report revealed the timing of testing had a significant impact on reducing risk. “The study has identified that the ideal timing of tests in quarantine is two tests near the end, regardless of the duration of quarantine,” he said.
The study refers to this testing regime as ‘enhanced testing’, a key finding which could be implemented by countries around the world, including in Europe, looking at shortening quarantine times by implementing evidence-based testing algorithms.
“Such enhanced testing, when combined with a seven-day quarantine, reduces the risk that individuals remain infectious post-release by a third,” Dr Burnell said.
The traQ model allows for a range of quarantine and testing scenarios to be continuously tested on live data, enabling real-time policy adaptation and tailored solutions for different countries and states of visitor origin.
Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC said: “Fourteen-day quarantine has served us well, but it is a blunt instrument that comes at a high economic and social cost. While 14-day quarantine will still be needed for travellers from high risk countries, the traQ model provides a careful, evidenced-based way to reduce the time spent in quarantine for travellers coming from low to moderate risk COVID-19 settings.”
The traQ model is consistent with the recommendations of the recently published National Review of Hotel Quarantine Report (published by the Australian Government Department of Health) that specifically asked for new models of quarantine to be developed and suggested the 14-days mandatory quarantine for low risk cohorts be waived.
Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with eight key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.