World leading quarantine systems

12 months into the pandemic, Australia can do better.

Australia's leaders could have learned from the humanitarian public health success of other nations

World leading quarantine systems


Key points

  • Taiwan and New Zealand have protected their populations from coronavirus without restricting essential travel and without stranding their citizens.
  • Each of those two countries have more than double Australia’s quarantine capacity per capita as at 15 February 2021, and have maintained those levels for months.
  • If Australia had the low end of New Zealand and Taiwan's quarantine capacity, it would be able to receive nearly 60,000 international arrivals per month.
  • As at 15 February 2021, Australia's caps limit international arrivals to 23,000/month.

COVID-19 quarantine in Taiwan

  • Taiwan is an island nation of high population density and a population of 23.8 million, almost two million less than Australia.
  • It is close to mainland China and has a cumulative total of 933 coronavirus cases and 9 deaths at 9 February, 2021. That is approximately 3% of Australia's cumulative cases and less than 1% of Australia's coronavirus fatalities.
  • Citizens and residents are valued; their essential travel has been facilitated throughout the pandemic. Taiwan allows entry to family of citizens and permanent residents as well as those who hold visas for work and study.
  • Between April 2020 and the end of January 2021, Taiwan received over 440,000 international arrivals. Australia received 238,000 during the same period. 
  • Over 400,000 people have quarantined at home in Taiwan using mobile phone tracking. Those in home-quarantine receive regular compliance calls and texts. Their phones must be kept on at all times. The compliance rate is 99.7%.       
  • Taiwan rolled out its electronically monitored home quarantine in March 2020. It was fully operational in April and was monitoring 55,000 people in self-quarantine by the end of that month. 
  • Australia's hotel quarantine system has never accommodated more than 15,000 at any one time.
  • Those who breach quarantine in Taiwan (by either entering or leaving a restricted premises without authorisation) face fines of up to $1,000,000 Taiwanese dollars ($43,000 AUD).
  • Taiwan’s longest period without community transmission was 254 days.
  • Those eligible for home quarantine in Taiwan must have a premises that is not shared with any person who is not part of their travelling party. If such premises are not available, the traveller pre-books a room in a choice of quarantine hotels or government facilities.
  • Travellers are driven to their quarantine accommodation in dedicated vehicles where the driver is separated from passengers by a plastic barrier. PPE is worn by all parties.
  • Taiwan has provided quarantine space averaging approximately 0.23% of their population/month. If Australia had done the same, it would have provided around 13,300 places/week or 59,900/month, no Australians would be stranded, no families separated, and there would have been space for some international students and those with valid work or business visas.

COVID-19 quarantine in New Zealand

  • New Zealand has a population of five million and at 9 February 2021, its cumulative coronavirus cases were 2,324 with 25 deaths.
  • Its quarantine capacity per month has ranged from 0.22% up to 0.24% of their population. The latter figure would amount to around 61,600 places per month in Australia, almost triple Australia's caps as of early February 2021.
  • New Zealan has a capacity of 4,500 hotel quarantine rooms and can accommodate well over 5,000 international arrivals at a time.
  • The Australian state of Victoria, with a population of 6.7m has halted all international flights to the state. In December its total intake was 5,300, or around 2,000 at a time. New Zealand took 12,766, over 5,600 per fortnight.
  • All of New Zealand’s international arrivals quarantine in hotels or facilities via its ‘Managed Isolation and Quarantine’ (MIQ) system
  • Returning residents book their own quarantine places prior to booking their flights, ensuring an orderly queue arrangement. The New Zealand MIQ system coordinates with airlines to ensure that any changes to flights do not mean a person’s quarantine place is lost. In Australia it’s the other way around. Airlines often bump passengers if the Australian government reduces the caps or has not allocated enough spaces for arrivals. The Australian system is chaotic, convoluted and does not allow those wanting to travel into the country to make plans with any certainty.
  • New Zealand’s MIQ system also includes various contingency measures including emergency allocations for urgent travel requirements, particularly on compassionate grounds.

The following table compares Australia’s performance in protecting its population from coronavirus with that of Taiwan and New Zealand, followed by their capacity to facilitate international travel.

Table: International travel – Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand – October – December 2020 with cumulative COVID-19 infections and fatalities

*This table is best viewed on tablet or desktop – or an updated version is available at this link.

Australia
Taiwan
New Zealand
Population

25.671m

23.84m

5m

Cumulative COVID-19 cases (deaths) 9 February 2021

28,871 (909)

933 (9)

2,324 (25)

Arrivals October 2020 (citizens & PRs)

24,710 (16,600)

42,863 (26954)

12,392*

Arrivals November 2020

29,770 (20,450)

53,238 (34,731)

11,741*

Arrivals December 2020

35,120 (24,560)

49,666 (27,654)

12,766*

Departures October 2020

47,000 (16,290)

43,705 (32,168)

13,946*

Departures November 2020

45,480 (15,440)

37,526 (25,106)

13,610*

Departures December 2020

49,940 (16,830)

37,282 (20,318)

17,405*

*New Zealand does not clearly distinguish citizens from permanent residents in its statistics