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Queensland COVID border restrictions force international arrivals pilots to quarantine for twice as long as COVID-19 patients


Until recently, quarantine requirements on pilots were so strict Sunshine Coast GP Kate Gazzard had to stay away from work any time her husband managed to fly internationally.
Now, amid Queensland’s Omicron outbreak, the state government is weighing allowing healthcare workers like her to keep treating patients while asymptomatically infected with COVID-19.

But it’s not budging on a requirement for international pilots to quarantine for two weeks.

Sunshine Coast GP Kate Gazzard and pilot husband Tim want the state government to cut the “crippling” quarantine period for pilots. (Supplied)

The rules mean pilots like Tim — who takes a PCR test at least once a week — must quarantine for twice as long as people confirmed to have COVID-19 and the people they live with.

Dr Gazzard said Tim, who couldn’t be interviewed for this story, lost his job at the start of the pandemic and spent months in quarantine while flying, including a stretch from October to now with only a two-week break.

He and colleagues had even been forced into quarantine after day trips to Samoa and Nauru where they didn’t leave the plane, she said.

“The mental health drain on these aviation pilots is crippling,” she told 9News.com.au.

“It’s really damaging to them and it’s been — for an industry that was so decimated during the peak of COVID and is now only trying to get back on its feet to still be crippling these guys is really heartbreaking.”

Dr Gazzard and Tim love the outdoors so the constant quarantining is even more taxing. (Supplied)

It’s an approach UK public health physician Professor Iain Buchan described to 9News.com.au as “contradiction in terms” that failed to take the “bigger picture” into account.

The government insists it is taking a “cautious approach” and plans to scrap all international quarantine when 90 per cent of the state’s over-16s are fully vaccinated.

That milestone is close; the figure was 87.9 per cent on Tuesday. But with a slow start to vaccinations in 2022, the figure is just a little more than a percentage point higher than at the end of last year.

Dr Gazzard said the wait was too much for pilots who had already spent so much time in quarantine and the discrepancy made a “complete mockery of every sacrifice we’ve made over the past two years”.

“The policy is absolutely ludicrous,” she said.

Australians will be able to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots after four months from early next year, and then three months from the end of January.
Vaccinations are the all-important measure for international arrivals. (Getty)

“These pilots have suffered enough over the past two years. They don’t deserve to continue suffering because of government hypocrisy and incompetence.”

Even with 10-20,000 confirmed cases a day within the state and tens of thousands more in other states without quarantine restrictions, Queensland Health maintains that “risks associated with overseas travellers and international air crew have not changed”.

“While both interstate and overseas hotspots are a concern, the risk profile for overseas hotspots is greater due to several factors, including quality of vaccinations, different variants circulating overseas, and uncertainty in contact tracing processes used in other countries,” a spokesperson told 9News.com.au in a statement. 

“All of these factors are taken into consideration to help minimise the spread of current or new variants in our state, and across Australia broadly.”

It’s an argument Dr Gazzard, who worked in sports medicine before the pandemic brought most sport to a halt in 2020, took issue with.

Dr Gazzard says pilots aren’t like other international arrivals. (Jocelyn Garcia)

“These pilots, they’re not international travellers,” she said, adding that the rule didn’t make sense for everyday international arrivals either.

“They’re triple vaccinated with Australian Pfizer vaccines and they’re quarantining everywhere they go.”

The 43-year-old said she’d written to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk appealing for “common sense” but hadn’t heard anything back.

“I’ve written so many times saying ‘as a doctor, I can’t see the sense in this,'” she said.

“How can you guys have a COVID positive patient quarantine for seven days and a three times negative PCR tested pilot quarantine for 14 days.”

Queensland's Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard. (Getty)

While Queensland Health is maintaining its stance on international quarantine, it is considering further relaxing isolation requirements for health workers, to the point where they can go back to work after testing positive to COVID-19, so long as they’re asymptomatic.

Queenslanders in “critically essential” industries such as health, retail and essential retail  can already return to work despite being a close contact.

“It’s possible that people who are asymptomatic and positive might be asked for example, to work in a COVID ward,” Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said on Friday.

“… It’s certainly something that has been discussed. 

“It isn’t being done at the moment. But that’s something that’s the sort of thing we are making plans for, contingency plans for.”

With 2138 Queensland Health staff infected and 2715 listed as close contacts on Tuesday, Dr Gerrard said there were no infected healthcare staff back on the job but “there may be some close contacts being monitored and working in the wards”.



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