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Potentially infectious Victorians cleared to leave isolation

Dr El-Khoury said if the department had contacted his clinic, it would have discovered the patient first complained of symptoms five days earlier.

“When I phoned the patient, he said: ‘You don’t need to contact me, DHHS sent me a letter of release after five days’,” Dr El-Khoury said.

“Then he got angry with me and said, ‘I don’t want you to contact me again’. Then he hung up.”

He said patients should have to record a negative test before leaving isolation.

“We should not have another repeat of the hotel quarantine because we did not force people to have a test,” he said.

Melbourne GP Catherine Orr, who has treated close to 100 COVID-19 patients, said that about a month ago three of her patients received clearance from the department two days before they should have.

“Some people were being cleared, despite having persistent symptoms, and no further follow-up,” she said. “I don’t know why we aren’t tapping into the GP resources that we have on the ground running already?”

On the other end of the spectrum, Dr Orr is also caring for so-called complex cases who have been isolating at home, often confined to a bedroom of a share house, for weeks on end with minor symptoms.

She said it had been “a nightmare” for these patients to obtain clearance from the department in a timely and transparent manner.

One of Dr Orr’s COVID-19 patients, an international student with a persistent and mild runny nose, required further testing after being deemed a complex case.

The student waited more than four days for the negative result and finally met the criteria for clearance last Friday.

But Dr Orr said the student didn’t receive her clearance certificate for a further five days, despite repeatedly phoning the department.

Dr Orr had intervened by emailing Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, who forwarded her concerns to the department. It turned out the department had emailed the certificate to the wrong address.

“I support the measures that have been put in place in Victoria, but I think we also have to keep our eye on the human rights issues,” she said.

“This girl lost her job because she’s just in this prolonged isolation of 24 days of sitting in a bedroom.”

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal says GPs should be consulted before patients are released from isolation.

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal says GPs should be consulted before patients are released from isolation.Credit:Eddie Jim

Australian Medical Association council chair Mukesh Haikerwal said GPs were in close contact with coronavirus patients, had a deep understanding of their circumstances and should be allowed to sign off on their clearance certificates.

At the very least, Dr Haikerwal said GPs should be consulted before coronavirus patients were released from isolation.

“Nobody from the department has talked to us about a COVID-19 patient,” the Altona North GP said.

“We should be able to see the patient and say, ‘you meet the criteria, you are free to come out of quarantine’.”

A department spokesman said every coronavirus case was individually assessed by a health professional using standardised criteria before they were cleared to leave isolation.

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“Case, contact and outbreak specialists are specifically appointed to ensure the appropriate clearance of patients,” he said.

“The earliest that a case is considered for clearance is 10 days after the day they first experienced symptoms. However, if an individual developed symptoms a number of days prior to getting tested, there may be less than 10 days between the time of that person’s test and the time they are cleared.”

Some cases must record a negative COVID-19 test before they are issued with a clearance certificate. These include patients who are significantly immuno-compromised and those who have ongoing, unresolved symptoms.

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