Medical professionals: ‘COVID-19 in institutions is a significant risk’

May 21, 2020
Detainees in the Mantra Hotel in Melbourne begging to be released. Photo: Refugee Action Collective Victoria.

In April, more than 1183 doctors, psychiatrists, professors and other healthcare workers called on Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Citizens and Multiculturalism Minister Alan Tudge and Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Minister Jason Wood to release asylum seekers and refugees from detention facilities to protect them from COVID-19 infection.

Doctors and advocacy groups had been in discussions with Dutton for more than a week before the talks reached a deadlock. 

Below is the well-supported letter by University of Sydney Clinical Professor in Paediatric Infectious Diseases Dr David Isaacs

• • •

Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers who were transferred from Manus and Nauru for medical treatment are still being held in closed detention, many without the medical treatment they need.

They now face the risk of COVID-19 infection. Transmission of COVID-19 in institutions is a significant risk.

Detainees are held in relatively crowded conditions, made worse by communal meal and activity arrangements in the hotels and detention centres.

An employee guarding people seeking asylum and refugees detained in a Brisbane apartment block has tested positive to the novel coronavirus.

Detention conditions in Australia would likely lead to rapid spread, posing a risk to guards and thence to the rest of the Australian community.

At the Mantra Hotel in Preston, an already high-risk environment is compounded by the fact that the hotel is used by airline crews, with personnel constantly coming and going from the hotel.

This poses dual risks of infected detainees infecting the airline crew or detainees being infected by the airline crew. Failure to take action to release people seeking asylum and refugees from detention will not only put them at greater risk of infection (and possibly death), it also risks placing a greater burden on wider Australian society and the health care system.

Not only should detainees be released, we call for the resources of IHMS [International Health and Medical Services which is contracted to provide primary and mental health care services to those in Australia’s immigration detention] to be put at the disposal of the government to help provide the health services needed in the wider community to bring COVID-19 under control.

We call for the release of people seeking asylum and refugees in detention immediately into the community, as the correct measure to take from both a humanitarian and public health perspective.

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