The incorrect advice that almost freed us from home quarantine

We’d made the necessary psychological pivot.

The online grocery order was lodged, as was the bottle shop order. A family member would drop off jigsaw puzzles to our doorstep. We'd started devising creative ways to keep our 16-month-old son occupied in our apartment. In short, we were resigned to a 14-day home quarantine.

Vehicles queue to cross the NSW-Victorian border at Albury on Friday.Credit:Jason Robins

Another DHHS official, apparently unaware of the previous conversation, phoned us shortly afterwards to check the details of our travel. Again, his advice was clear: as we’d received a negative test result, we were free from quarantine.

Out of an abundance of caution, we read him the conditions on our travel permit and asked one more time for confirmation. The official put us on hold while he spoke to his supervisor. Finally, he conceded he had initially provided the wrong advice. We would have to spend 14 days in home quarantine.

The experience has made me empathise with people who try to do the right thing but are provided with incorrect and confusing advice from health officials.

The family at the centre of October’s coronavirus cluster in Melbourne's northern suburbs springs to mind. They too, claim they were provided with misleading advice that led to one of their children inadvertently attending school while infectious. Two days before their child had attended school, the family received an email from the department saying they had met the criteria to end isolation.

Clear and effective communication is vital during a pandemic.

Confusion can have serious consequences: most alarmingly, unwittingly infectious people wandering through streets, shops and cafes, infecting others.

The 14-day quarantine period acknowledges that COVID-19 has a median incubation period of between 4.9 and seven days and is not always detected in an initial test. A fortnight ago, a Queensland man who initially tested negative to the virus after visiting Sydney’s northern beaches, tested positive. Fortunately he had been self-isolating at home.

I hope other Victorians fleeing NSW have received the correct advice from health officials. It’s vital if we want to stamp out this latest outbreak.

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