A Perth [W.A.] dentist has been sentenced to two months immediate jail for breaching COVID-19 quarantine requirements and treating 41 patients despite knowing the health risk posed by the virus.

Dentist Natalia Nairn flew back to Perth from Canberra on June 16 via Sydney. She left home on seven or eight occasions when she should have been in Self-Isolation to treat clients. The magistrate dismissed Dr. Nairn’s argument that she was “feeling fine”

During sentencing in the Joondalup Magistrates Court, Magistrate Matthew Walton told Dr. Nairn her offending constituted a “contemptible disregard” for the rules.

Magistrate Walton said Dr. Nairn could have been responsible for spreading the virus through the community, and that she posed a significant risk to the health and safety of West Australians.

Nairn flew back to Perth from Canberra on June 16 via Sydney and was supposed to quarantine at home for two weeks. But the court heard on seven or eight occasions, she left her home to work at a dental clinic and treated 41 patients. She even revisited the dental clinic again after police tried to contact her at her home about her then alleged breach.

Dr. Nairn was charged with eight offences of failing to comply with a direction under the Emergency Management Act, and pleaded guilty on October 21.

Magistrate Walton said Nairn’s view she did not pose a risk because she was “feeling fine” was “patently ridiculous” and “staggeringly naive or at the very least irrelevant”.

Magistrate Walton went on to say that Dr. Nairn knew the risks of her action and in fact wore PPE while treating patients.

“She took those measures to fundamentally protect herself,” he said.

Magistrate Walton described the crimes as deliberate and at the “upper range of seriousness”, and said she risked potentially freshly introducing COVID-19 into the state, through 41 patients who could have then spread it through their own networks and contacts.

Magistrate Walton took into consideration Dr. Nairn’s remorse, early guilty plea and the fact she may be deregistered as a dentist.

But he said the offence warranted a jail term.

Nairn was sentenced to two months in prison, as well as another five months suspended for a period of eight months.

Comments from within the profession:

“It’s hard to be sympathetic. Looks like she was allowed to self-quarantine having come from interstate. Breaking the “honour system” really is poor form.. It would be bad enough just wandering around the community, but getting up close and personal with patients. That really is bad form.”

“Media circus made it much worse. But it was fairly blatant disregard for the law. Possibly her profession would have made the outcome worse for her as well, as she should have known better. Would be unfair to be stopped earning a livelihood with what is clearly just bad judgement and bad timing.”

“Media piled on because the stupidity/selfishness is astounding for a health care professional. Extremely heavy-handed approach. A stiff fine and closure for a short period but a jail sentence?”

“Jail is way too harsh. A fine is understandable. Are they jailing everyone else who didn’t quarantine?”

“Jail time is just way too harsh. Let’s drop the “she put her patients at risk” nonsense. She breached WA law. I get that. Perhaps a fine. She does not deserve trial by media and jail. You can drive around in a car drunk and you don’t go to jail.”

“Jail time is quite harsh, but she has brought the profession into disrepute. We have an additional responsibility to act with the highest level of professionalism, particularly when it comes to breaches of public health policy. We know that any improper act that reaches the media will always mention our profession without fail. More so than any other professions. A heavy fine would have sufficed.”

“She didn’t have COVID. She never tested positive. She didn’t spread the disease or infect a single person. In a state where there’s very few cases. Goes to jail…. what has this world come to??”

“Harsh punishment given the result, perfect deterrent to dentists though?”

My take on this:

The dental profession is easy media cannon fodder. And Dr. Nairn is an unwitting victim of this media thirst.

But as I’ve always said:

“No matter how difficult things are out there in the economy and in society in general, nobody, and I mean nobody out there, gives a rats if a dentist is doing it tough.”

As they say in the classics:

“Do the crime. Do the time.”

In Dr. Nairn’s case the punishment does appear to be quite harsh. I’m in agreement with those who say a fine would have sufficed.

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