For the many Aussies currently in hotel quarantine, Christmas was just another dreary day, but for Tom McNamara, there was an added layer of frustration. A likely false positive test, returned on what should have been the last day of his quarantine, has seen him stuck in isolation for three weeks and counting, and he feels NSW Health has let his case fall through the cracks.

McNamara, an Aussie who has lived in the UK since 2016, tested positive for COVID-19 in early November. He self-isolated for the required 14 days, and after showing no symptoms, he was fortunate enough to catch a flight home to Australia with his fiancee. On arrival in Sydney on December 6, he informed health authorities of his situation, and was sent into isolation.

From there, everything proceeded as expected. His first two COVID tests – on the first and tenth days of hotel quarantine – came back negative. He tested again on December 18, but what should have been a routine test was instead the start of a drawn-out bureaucratic bungle.

“On December 19, my planned discharge date, I was informed I had tested positive, and would have to stay in quarantine for another 14 days,” McNamara told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

Baffled at the result, he asked for a re-test, which was conducted on the same day, and came back negative. Another swab test on December 20 also came back negative, at which point, a blood test was conducted, and a likely explanation arose. McNamara explained:

“The serology (blood test) results were that I was “positive for total antibodies, indicating I had an acute infection 4 weeks prior to the test” and that I did not have an active infection. This is what NSW Health refers to as a “Historic Case”. In a small number of swab tests apparently an old infection can trigger a positive result – despite the person not currently having COVID-19.”

That sounded like an all-clear, and McNamara asked if he could finally be released from hotel quarantine, but it was not to be. “I was informed that because the NSW Health Ministry had not provided guidance on how to manage historic cases, I would still have to quarantine for the additional 14 days,” he said.

Hotel quarantine

Now, on day 21 separated from his fiancee, friends and family, McNamara is still trying to get an update from NSW Health or even from his own doctors, but has heard nothing, and feels like he is banging his head against a wall. “It feels like my case has fallen into the ‘too hard basket’ and that it is easier for NSW Health to just have me isolate for 4 weeks, rather than take responsibility for providing guidance.”

Especially galling is the fact that, if McNamara had simply refused testing, he would be eligible for release after 24 days. The fact that he did the right thing and cooperated with heath authorities now means he is how facing the prospect of 27 to 30 days in hotel quarantine, separated from his family and support network.

He told PEDESTRIAN.TV that hotel staff have been “fantastic”, and that he is filling his days watching cricket – the perfect sport for quarantine, because it’s long and slow and drags on forever without a resolution. Friends and family have come to wave at him from the street, and he’s keeping his spirits up, but more than anything, he wants an answer.

As he ruefully explained:

“Between NSW Health and the Health Ministry there seems to be no desire for anyone to own the solution, which leaves me falling between the cracks, isolated and alone in a hotel for 4 weeks over Christmas.”

“I would really like NSW to clearly identify what the protocol or guidance is for managing positive tests in people who have previously had COVID-19,” he said. “Yesterday Dr Chant was asked in a press conference about my case – she said there was a protocol in place. I have met each of the requirements that she set out, so if I could be finally released following my 21 days it would be great!”