Quarantined respiratory physician under Public Health Order

Public health

By Mardi Chapman

31 Mar 2020

Brisbane respiratory and sleep physician Dr Glenn Rice-McDonald is among a group of doctors caught up in tough new regulations requiring enforced quarantine in hotel rooms at the port of entry for all returning travellers to Australia.

Dr Rice-McDonald was one of a group of more than 70 doctors who flew back into Sydney after taking part in a medical conference and tour to Antarctica and Chile. 

They landed back in Sydney late on Friday 27 March, a day before the introduction of rules that mandate 14 days immediate quarantine rather than home isolation.

Dr Rice-McDonald told the limbic that everyone was frustrated and just wanted to get back home. 

“We’d all be lying to say we didn’t want to get back so we could at least be closer to our family even though we might not be able to sit down with them.”

But the sentiment of all the doctors in quarantine was that they were very conscious of their colleagues working on COVID-19 preparations and they would like to be contributing. 

A third frustration was that they had been admonished by NSW Health and Police Ministers for trying to get home to self-isolation and slapped with public health orders which accuse them of not complying with advice.  

“We all had the expectation that everything would be fine. We had communication from the federal department of health that they were aware of our situation and upon arrival, we should go to the designated hotel and then we could return home the following day.”

“We didn’t fall into the detention bracket so that’s where a lot of the frustration has come into place. When we arrived we all had flights to go home and those flights were all to be completed before the PM’s curfew on midnight 28 March.”

Dr Rice-McDonald said the situation had been chaotic but anyone who managed to get a flight home on the Saturday, had been told they could do so by the last police they encountered before leaving the airport in the early hours on Saturday.  

“Anyone who got on a flight hadn’t been served with any order not to go on a flight,” he said.

“None of us had been exposed to COVID, we are all responsible people, we are not a risk to the community, we all know how to self isolate. I suspect it was all just a terrible overreaction to the NSW handling of the [Ruby Princess] cruise ship where people just walked off and infected the community.”

He said he had been trying to do some telehealth from the hotel but it was very difficult whereas he would have been able to do some work from self-isolation at home.

He said the trip itself, organised by Unconventional Conventions, was great. 

“I was one of the speakers there so I gave six sessions and then a number of additional sessions which ironically were on COVID-19 updates so all the delegates were up to speed. 

“It was a very good educational conference and of course a gorgeous part of the world to see – on a bucket list to have the opportunity to see how magnificent it is,” he said.

“When we left Australia mid-February there was probably less than 10 cases throughout Australia so even if you were to look back then, no one was predicting what we have now. 

“With a retrospectoscope you could go back and say ….we would not have gone. You don’t go on a conference in the knowledge that what had started as relatively small and predominantly in China was going to turn into what this is now.”

WA radiologist Dr Glen Lo has documented – in his blog and on Twitter – some of his experience since the “trip of the lifetime” on MS Roald Amundsen turned sour. 

He is adamant the Public Health Orders were unjustified as he was very willing to quarantine in Sydney before travelling the final leg home to WA

Consistent with what Dr Rice-McDonald said, the doctors never defied any direction and instead were allowed to leave the airport for a hotel after collecting their luggage in the wee hours of the morning.

“Our flight home was at 10:25, QF 581. We were almost home. We would get to cuddle our cat. I was planning on telling work – all three radiology jobs – that I wanted to self-isolate for a month. Our neighbours had offered to buy our groceries. The end was in sight,” he wrote on his blog.

And then it went awry.


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