A LEADING Australian epidemiologist has compared the UK’s hotel quarantine system to a sieve with too many holes in a discussion with MPs about lifting lockdown.

Professor Catherine Bennett, of Deakin University in Victoria, said border closure had been one of Australia’s “main tools” in keeping infection rates low and protecting its domestic economy.

Speaking to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the coronavirus, she said Australia had tightened up its hotel quarantine system in response to the new variants, including adding extra testing.

She remarked that the system of hotel quarantine in the UK – which has only just been introduced, is only 10 days long and allows people out for exercise – demonstrates a difference in the way Australia and the UK perceive lockdowns.

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“If you’re going to have too many holes in the sieve, then why bother with the sieve?” Bennett said.

She added that Australia was now testing hotel quarantine staff daily, including on their days off, and had imposed much stricter conditions on Australian air crews who had previously been allowed to return home between shifts.

Australia has recorded just 909 Covid deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, with the vast majority of cases being confined to Victoria.

The UK by contrast, has recorded almost 130,000 cases of death where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The UK consistently saw more than 50,000 new cases a day over the new year period. Australia has recored just short of 30,000 cases in total since the pandemic first struck. 

At the same APPG on coronavirus, Professor Martin McKee from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told MPs he “just doesn’t know” how the UK Government’s policy of trying to get Covid-19 infections to below 10,000 – rather than aiming for zero – will work.

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McKee, a professor of European Public Health, said it was very hard to “calibrate” the infection rate and keep it level when data is always about 10 days out of date.

McKee told the APPG that delays in picking up infections, analysing data and then deciding what to do made the UK Government’s policy unworkable.

“You’re always going to have two or three weeks behind the curve,” he said.

“To calibrate perfectly this level of infections at 1000 or 10,000 whatever cases and just keep it absolutely right, without it either going up, or as I would argue, we want to get it down I just don’t know how you do that.”

McKee said having a situation where infection rates are “yoyoing” up and down was just creating uncertainty for the public and for the economy.