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District's team farewells Sydney Airport

District scales back operations as quarantine-free travel begins.

Woman in foreground and man in background at airport next to a plane
SydneyConnect Image: Sarah Jane Nilsson

For the past 15-months, Nurse Sarah Jane Nilsson has been a member of the NSW Health COVID-19 response team at Sydney Airport.

"It's been such a great experience working with our dedicated staff. There's been such long hours. It's been an amazing opportunity. Probably once in a lifetime and I think it will always be the highlight of my career," she said.

Sarah Jane was a Child and Family Health nurse before the pandemic, but in July 2020 she stepped up to become a Health Commander at the airport.

She managed Sydney Local Health District's role in screening and testing thousands of passengers for coronavirus at the airport each week.

Since beginning operations at the airport in March 2020, the District screened more than 107,000 people at the domestic terminal, while more than 300,000 were screened at the international terminal.

And, on-site COVID-19 testing has been carried out for people identified as symptomatic during the screening process – with the District carrying out 650 tests at the domestic terminal and more than 73,000 at the international terminal.

Dr Teresa Anderson, the District's Chief Executive, shared that the experience had been an amazing example of what can be achieved through collaboration and team work.

"Our team, in partnership with colleagues from South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, State Health Emergency Operations Centre and so many government, non-government and private organisations including Sydney Airport, Australian Border Force, NSW Police Force, Transport for NSW, Department of Defence, Australian Federal Police, Biosecurity and the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. Everyone has done an incredible job," Dr Teresa said.

"The interagency work has been the highlight and working with all of the staff from Sydney Airport and the state's frontline agencies. Every team has been so flexible, adaptable and willing to help," Sarah Jane said.

As former Airports Lead at the State Health Emergency Operation Centre, Dr Hassan Kadous played a key role in NSW Health's operations at the airport since the early days, when quarantine had just begun in NSW.

"What stands out from the past 18 months, working daily with all organisations at Sydney Airport, is the shared common-ground and goodwill palpable amongst all frontline agency staff.

"With thousands and thousands of Australians returning to their loved ones, and not a single case of known transmission inside the airport, it's been a fantastic experience to have been a part of," Dr Kadous said.

With fully vaccinated people now able to travel without the need to quarantine in NSW, frontline agencies, including NSW Health, have scaled back their operations at the airport.

The airport's Chief Executive Geoff Culbert has thanked all those involved.

"United is a great way to describe what we've all been through over the past 18 months. I'd like to acknowledge everyone and the extraordinary experience we've all gone through together," he said.

"We've handled every challenge, we've been so well coordinated and I thank every single person and their help along the way."