An infectious disease specialist has called on the ACT to halve the time children identified as close contacts are required to quarantine, saying it's time to re-examine public safety measures introduced at the outbreak's onset.
Children suspected of coming into contact with coronavirus at school are sent into strict 14-day lockdown even if they test negative to COVID-19, a policy Professor Peter Collignon says could be avoided.
The rationale for the two-week quarantine regardless of test results was COVID's potential 14-day incubation period, according to ACT Health.
Professor Collignon said while a 14-day incubation period could occur, the average incubation period was four to five days.
"Yes you can get it out to 14 days, but it's a very small percentage that do [get it] in, say, that last four days," Professor Collignon said.
"So while that 14 days is appropriate when you have a zero-COVID policy, that's not the policy anymore."
While the vaccinated community is now permitted to return to work and leave isolation after seven days if they test negative, children under 12 who currently have no access to a vaccine are still forced to stay home from school for the full two weeks.
Professor Collignon said part of living with COVID meant utilising rapid tests which, while not as good as PCR tests, had the potential to minimise the impact of the virus on people's lives.
The ACT government has shelved plans to introduce rapid antigen testing for students exposed to COVID at Canberra public schools in term four, while both NSW and Victoria introduced home testing earlier this month.
The Victorian government initially spent around $2 million to purchase 200,000 testing kits for schools, halving quarantine requirements for students exposed to COVID to seven days.
Professor Collignon said living with COVID meant accepting that while reducing quarantine to seven or 10 days would mean some people would be infectious in the community, there were ways to mitigate the risk that were proving successful overseas.
"Our whole planning has to change," he said.
"Who [do] you define as a close contact - is it the whole class, or is it just the four or five children that were in close association? And for those ... immunised, do we need to go for 14 days? Can we go for a lower period of time with other supplementary ways of checking them?"
The public health measure has affected scores of families since school returned for term four, with exposures at Canberra schools in the double digits this month alone.
ACT Health said this week it was still considering its quarantine requirements, which would continue to be guided by Commonwealth guidelines.
It said a lot of work had been done with schools to minimise the number of people identified as close contacts if exposures occurred.
ANU demographer and mum of seven Liz Allen said the ACT approach to responding to exposure of COVID-19 among children unable to be vaccinated was "quite frankly peculiar."
"Pandemic financial supports have ended, meaning parents and carers who have to miss two weeks of paid work caring for young children who have to quarantine will adversely impact the already vulnerable and disadvantaged," she said.
"The pandemic is far from over and until everyone can be adequately protected through vaccinations, we are going to require sensible and fair approaches to dealing with COVID-19 cases and exposure.
"This approach to dealing with exposure among children aged 12 and under is neither sensible or fair."
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