Mandatory hotel quarantine in Australia: an empirical ethics study

Dr Jane Williams1, Dr Bridget Haire2

1Sydney Health Ethics, University Of Sydney, , Australia, 2Kirby Institute, UNSW, , Australia

Australian federal and state governments use border control measures as a key public health response to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection into and within Australia. These have included closing the national border to all non-citizens and non-residents and mandating a 14-day hotel quarantine for returned travellers. We conducted 58 interviews with people who had experienced mandatory hotel and/or Howard Springs quarantine between March 2020 and January 2021. Interviews captured three phases of quarantine: its earliest days; the Victorian hotels that triggered that state’s major outbreak; and paid quarantine. This empirical study provides the context for a normative analysis of the justifiability of hotel quarantine. In Australia, where relaxing mandated hotel quarantine would likely lead to the introduction of (currently absent) community spread of COVID-19, we consider that mandatory quarantine in an assigned location is likely reasonable. Some of the conditions under which people are required to quarantine are less justifiable. In this presentation, we report on the role of information in hotel quarantine and the relationship between not knowing and reduced agency. We interpret our findings with respect to Australia’s particular relationship with quarantine and restricted borders and with the ethics literature on quarantine in mind.


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