Amid coronavirus outbreaks linked to breaches in hotel quarantine that are forcing lockdowns across the country, the federal government is facing calls to open purpose-built quarantine facilities in each state and territory.The federal government is facing calls for purpose-built quarantine facilities to be opened in every state and territory amid coronavirus epidemics that have been linked to breaches of hotel quarantine.

In an interview with Sky News on June 25, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the hotel quarantine program “had a lot of critics” but defended its record.|Premier Minister Scott Morrison stated that the hotel quarantine program had “a lot of critics”, but defended it in an interview with Sky News June 25.

“…about 370,000 people have gone through the system. I believe there have been 26 breaches, less than ten of which has led to community transmission. If I had told you one year ago that we would achieve a 99.9% success rate, I believe you would have said that. I’m sure you believe in miracles. That’s what actually happened.

Is it possible that the hotel quarantine system has seen such high success rates across the country? RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.

The verdict

Mr Morrison claims that spin is the key to his claim.

Fact Check contacted experts to discuss his assessment of hotel quarantine’s “success”.

There were however differing opinions about the numbers that should be used for success.

Experts agreed that success should be measured against the entire community impact of breaches.

Others suggested that more complicated calculations be used to account for hotel quarantine leakages not discovered through testing or contact trace.

Additionally, it is possible to calculate the success of hotel quarantine by using more complicated modelling from academic research on coronaviruses in different countries.

Experts were unable to find any research on the subject of Australian hotel quarantine. However, it is evident that Morrison’s simple calculations are not sufficient to support the claim of such high success rates.

To illustrate, one expert used an analogy about an airline to show the point: “If an airline had seven accidents in six months, and they claimed that they took more passengers than other airlines, would you still fly with that airline?” Risk is binary for me when it’s a critical system that has dire consequences.

What’s the purpose of hotel-based quarantine?

To determine the success of a system (in this case, hotel quarantine), it is necessary to ask the following question: What is the purpose or goal?

Federal government has repeatedly stated the goal of the system.

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After National Cabinet agreed on the system of hotel quarantine on March 27, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the movement of incoming travellers would be further restricted “in order to help drive down [the] concerning number of imported cases”. After National Cabinet had agreed on hotel quarantine system on March 27, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that the movement of incoming travelers would be further restricted to “help drive down [the] worrying number of imported cases”.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was established in July. It is the “key decision-making committee for health emergencies” and comprises the chief medical officers of all states and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer.

And a national review of hotel quarantine in October 2020 said: “The objective of Hotel Quarantine is to prevent the spread of the virus from any arriving traveler who is infected into the wider community. A national review on hotel quarantine was conducted in October 2020. It stated that the objective of Hotel Quarantine was to stop the spread of the disease from any infected traveler into the community. This objective can only be achieved if quarantine services are managed and delivered properly.

These ambitions must be considered within the context of Australians expectations.