Why intelligent and healthy quarantine infrastructure is now critical for Australia’s future.
Australia is in an enviable position when it comes to COVID-19 (COVID) in terms of our global standing — both in terms of health and in terms of economy. However, it has come at a cost. Typically, community spread comes down to quarantine issues from returning citizens or travellers. Our ability to track and trace varies from state to state.
Methods to manage COVID outbreaks often include harsh measures such as lockdowns. Even a single case can generate restrictions such as a state-wide lockdown and interstate travel bans. Although effective from a COVID spread point of view, this isn’t popular because we all value our freedom and mental health. And the economic impact is significant to say the least. Put simply, lockdowns can’t be a long-term solution for Australia managing COVID.
AiGroup has calculated that a seven-day stoppage such as this [currently occurring in Melbourne] is likely to cost billions of dollars. Multiply this by all the lockdowns and it’s just not a sensible long-term solution — especially when there are strong alternatives.
What’s the long-term solution?
If the source of COVID is Australians returning from overseas — with the virus somehow escaping our quarantine system — then the answer is to make sure our quarantine system is airtight. Health procedures must be followed, but even more importantly, purpose-built hi-tech quarantine facilities must be established, which incorporate technologies that prevent or kill the spread of the virus and allow us to safely welcome returning Australians.
A broad range of digital services and technologies support healthy buildings and could be implemented in a purpose-built smart quarantine solution. Below are just some of the technologies available today.
Hotel quarantine and moving to a smarter long-term approach
To date we’ve taken standard hotel infrastructure and converted it into quarantine facilities. This approach worked as an interim measure and in fact was necessary, but it certainly isn’t an airtight solution.
Some people have talked about mining huts in remote sites. This low-tech approach is not the solution either. We can do much better than this and we need a much smarter approach. An approach that employs intelligent infrastructure (which already exists) and an approach that not only protects us against the spread of the virus and against the multi-billion-dollar economic costs, but one that actually has the potential to form a new industry, skills, jobs and exports for Australia.
Comprehensive technology solutions are available now. Below is a snapshot of the Siemens ‘Smart Air Quality Program’. There are many other existing technologies that would go into a smart-technology-driven quarantine solution.
Intelligent infrastructure technologies already exist to build a world-class quarantine solution. Examples include heating, ventilation and cooling, which has antibacterial and UV filtration capabilities; integrated IoT building management systems that can intelligently monitor and sensor almost anything in and outside of a building; hi-tech biosecurity access systems; apps and wearable devices that support effective tracking and tracing; and systems that can interact intelligently with healthcare providers by employing Industrial Internet of Things technologies.
The digital twin approach
A solution can be designed and built digitally before the first shovel hits the dirt so we can eliminate risk and maximise outcomes. Advanced industry and manufacturing already takes this approach. The vision would be to design and build a purpose-built world-class quarantine facility and system that not only allows Australia to properly manage COVID and bring people safely back into the country, but one which also has the potential to stimulate economic growth with new industries and skills that could be exported to the world.
Beyond the purpose-built quarantine solution, but not as critical as the current situation, we have a longer-term need to introduce healthy building technologies to our cities to improve city resilience, confidence and prosperity.
Building 4.0 CRC Q_Smart technology-led quarantine solution
Chaired by Dr Bronwyn Evans, Building 4.0 CRC is proposing a hi-tech quarantine solution called Q_Smart.
Q_Smart proposes a technology-enabled building and service delivery quarantine solution: a comprehensive, integrated system comprising a suite of processes, tools and products that are highly flexible and scalable for use in different locations, nationally and globally. The building solutions are factory made and can be assembled to suit a range of site conditions and requirements. The structures are easily dissembled and can be relocated and repurposed for other applications such as bushfire relief or affordable housing.
Do we have a business case?
COVID is not going away and undoubtedly the business case for Australia to invest in such a solution is as clear as daylight. Technology exists that can achieve this. There are people with skills in Australia to embark on this. There are suitable locations, and of all the world, Australia is in the best position to rapidly focus on and invest in this.
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