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Why Self-Isolation Won’t Work

As you’ve no doubt heard, there are some freshly half-baked rules about what people need to do when they arrive in our sea-girt home.

Anyone entering the country -- citizen, permanent resident or ill-timed tourist -- now has to self-isolate for 14 days, at the risk of hefty fines (and/or jail time, depending which state you’re flouting the law in). We barely trust people not to bring fruit into the country and we’re going to trust them to sit at home alone for a fortnight? Come on now.

Politics

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All People Entering Australia Ordered Into Isolation For 14 Days Over Coronavirus Spread Fears

Every person entering Australia will have to spend a fortnight in self-isolation from Monday, as the federal government scrambles to stop the spread of coronavirus.

There are good reasons to put people into quarantine if you suspect they have a communicable disease that could devastate the nation, but as usual in this country we’re handed nothing but impractical half-measures and muddy messaging at every step of the way.

Take a look at the extreme lockdown steps taking place across Europe -- all shops and restaurants closed in Italy, intensified border control checks in Germany and the army mobilised in France, for example -- and you’ll see how laid back we’re behaving from our island home, as though our ocean borders will save us from that 'rona.

Remember in The Godfather Part II when little Vito Corleone had to sit in his tiny Ellis Island cell, quietly singing to himself until his smallpox cleared up? There were doctors and security people and kitchen workers and a whole bureaucratic infrastructure underpinning the operation.

That’s not what’s happening here today in 2020 for the potential carriers. We’re essentially relying on people to work on the honour system -- in NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s words, “public goodwill” -- and calls to dob in your colleagues if they slide into work after a whirlwind trip to the Bahamas... so they can be slapped with a potential $13,000 fine.

Passengers arrive at Sydney's international airport on March 16, the day the self-isolation rule began. (Image: Getty)

Who is realistically going to do that, unless it’s their office nemesis? There isn’t even a cash reward for telling on your co-workers, so where’s the incentive now that you’ve thoughtlessly shaken their hand and bitten your fingernails anyway? In some cases they should be working from home, sure, but that’s a lot easier if you’re a cloud-based DevOps person with a savings account than if you’re a retail worker or tradie with rent to pay.

Even worse, we’re doing very little to support these returning heroes in their valiant attempt to keep their germs to themselves. There’s no 14-day package of staple foods and wet wipes handed out to prospective self-isolators upon arrival at the airport -- just advice to head directly to your home/hotel in a personal car, or wear a surgical mask in the Ola there.

Of course, like most people, you've no doubt left a stockpile of non-perishable necessities before you went overseas, so there’s zero need to step outside your front door for two weeks.

Coronavirus

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Australians To Cop Huge Fines If They Do Not Self Isolate

Queenslanders are being urged to stop hugging and kissing and the premier has warned plane arrivals they face being fined if they don't self-isolate.

There’s no differentiation or testing given to determine whether staying home playing Fortnite for a fortnight is a dramatic overreaction or a sensible thing to do. There’s talk about being “extra vigilant” if you’ve been in China, Iran, Italy or South Korea… but what exactly does that entail? Telling the Deliveroo rider to slide your pizza under the front door? Trying to get groceries delivered even though the services are either overloaded or (in the case of Woolworths) suspended? Frittering away your holiday time staring at the generically decorated walls of an Airbnb?

Sure, you might say it’s silly to be touristing at this point in time, but visitors are coming. Are they properly incentivised to sit quietly in their accommodation on the off-chance they're contagious? And don’t tell me our struggling cafés and pubs won’t be welcoming tourists in with a squirt of hand sanitiser and today’s specials. People can barely sit alone with their thoughts for one night before they go stir crazy, never mind hepped up on the excitement of seeing a new city’s sights.

National

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How To Be Alone And Not Cry: Self-Isolating For Coronavirus 101

Given the noise around coronavirus it can be hard to distinguish what advice to take, especially if you're experiencing symptoms, are returning from abroad or have had contact with someone who has the disease.

Even if isolation does turn out to be a good idea, we’re back to that footage of little Vito in his publicly funded cell for the duration. The emphasis here is on self-isolation, because the Government has washed its hands of that level of responsibility. They’re not providing medical-grade facilities for people to cool their coronas in, with daily disinfections and tolerable meal options. They’re sending you home with the best of luck, and maybe a random police check to make sure you’re there when they pop round.

In one case I’m familiar with, a returning Australian citizen has to self-isolate with her elderly parents, putting her at risk of having their blood on her hands. What’s she meant to do? She can send them out for food and supplies to sustain her during quarantine. But she's also potentially exposing them to someone who’s been in a high-risk area, which means they’re a potential vector, which means this whole thing is dumb and won’t work.

Featured Image: Focus Features