UPDATED 4:30 pm: ACT health authorities are expected to announce relaxed rules for close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases tomorrow after both NSW and Victoria scrapped quarantine rules earlier today (20 April).
On Tuesday, Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the Territory would seek to align its arrangements with the larger two states as possible but would not rush to make an announcement.
In a statement, Ms Stephen-Smith said that while health officials across NSW, Victoria and the ACT had been working closely together, and she had personally spoken with her state counterparts, the final details had only been made publicly available this morning.
As such, she said authorities will make an announcement after they have worked through “exactly what other jurisdictions are proposing, especially NSW”.
“This includes better understanding how they will be implementing the measures, for example, which elements will form part of a legal direction and which will be in guidance material,” she explained.
Ms Stephen-Smith said Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman had this morning briefed the Security and Emergency Management Committee of Cabinet on the expected announcements as well as any local considerations.
“While we will aim for consistency, we are also conscious that we need to be able to answer a range of questions when an announcement is made and therefore will not rush the announcement or implementation of any changes,” she said.
As she did earlier in the week, Ms Stephen-Smith said it would be a balancing act to counteract workforce needs with the additional risks of COVID-19 transmission if household contacts are not quarantining.
She flagged that additional precautions such as indoor mask-wearing, undertaking rapid antigen tests and avoiding high-risk settings could be implemented, as they have been in both NSW and Victoria.
12 pm: The Territory has recorded 1180 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8 pm yesterday as NSW and Victoria moved in lockstep to scrap the seven-day quarantine requirement for household or close contacts from Friday (22 April).
In both states, anyone deemed a close contact of a positive case will have to undertake rapid antigen tests, wear a face mask in indoor settings and avoid high-risk settings.
In NSW, close contacts will be asked to notify their employer and work from home if possible.
Various other changes will also come into place.
NSW will lift many public health orders that require critical workforces to be vaccinated, although aged care and disability workers will still need the jab.
In Victoria, patrons at hospitality venues will no longer be required to show proof of vaccination, and masks will no longer be needed in primary schools, early childhood, or retail settings.
Hotel quarantine will also cease in both states.
Both state governments had come under pressure from businesses to ease the close contact quarantine requirement.
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Business NSW had called on their respective state governments to drop the strict quarantine requirements as businesses face staff shortages.
Earlier this week, Business NSW Chief Executive Daniel Hunter said Australians had demonstrated they could live and work with COVID-19.
“NSW and Victoria are Australia’s biggest economies and the isolation rules are providing a barrier to businesses as healthy people are forced to isolate unnecessarily,” he said.
Some exemptions are in place for industries facing severe shortages, including airport workers, but Mr Hunter called for consistency for all.
ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith yesterday confirmed an announcement from local health authorities would be made by the end of the week, and she expected the Territory to move in line with NSW and Victoria.
“We will look at our own circumstances and the advice of our own Chief Health Officer as we make these decisions, but we will also be really cognisant of what NSW and Victoria are doing and try to maintain consistency to the greatest possible extent where it makes sense,” Ms Stephen-Smith said yesterday.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s winter advice for the management of COVID-19 recommended all states and territories adopt a “nationally consistent, risk-based transition” away from household contract quarantine requirements.
Currently, household or ‘high-risk’ contacts must quarantine for seven days even if they are asymptomatic and can return negative rapid antigen test results.
Locally, there are now 63 people in hospital with COVID-19. Two people are in the ICU, with one person being ventilated.
The 1180 new cases (570 PCR, 610 RAT) take the local active caseload to 5192 (2603 PCR, 2589 RAT).
The Territory recorded 816 new COVID-19 infections yesterday, and hospitalisations have hit a 10-week high with 64 patients with COVID-19 in Territory hospitals.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 95,625 (60,040 PCR and 35,585 RAT) cases of COVID-19 reported in the ACT.
The double-dose vaccination rate for the ACT’s five-plus population remains 96.7 per cent, and 74.7 per cent of residents aged 16 and older have now received a booster.
Of ACT residents aged five to 11, 62.5 per cent have received two doses of vaccine.
Interstate, NSW has reported 15 deaths overnight and 15,414 new cases of COVID-19.
There are now 1639 people in hospital with the virus and 72 people in ICUs around the state.
Victoria has reported 14 deaths overnight and an additional 10,628 cases of COVID-19.
There are now 437 people hospitalised with the virus, while 34 patients are in the state’s intensive care units.