25 August 2021

UPDATED: Multiple zero days and no community transmission the key to lockdown exit

| Dominic Giannini and Genevieve Jacobs
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Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said she was “cautiously optimistic” about today’s numbers. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

UPDATED 2:30 pm: Chief Minister Andrew Barr confirmed that the ACT would not leave lockdown early after the Territory recorded nine new cases today, and a total of eight cases overall remain under investigation.

Mr Barr said the level of restrictions in the ACT would be mapped against the number of mystery cases and local transmission and how many new cases were infectious in the community.

He has previously said the ACT would only end lockdown early if there was a run of zero case days and no transmission in the community.

“The step from lockdown to the next phase is going to be a gentle one. It is not going to be that all public health restrictions will be removed, it would be a level of increased activity,” he said.

The ACT’s path out of lockdown will become clearer before the weekend as Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman conducts a checkpoint of the lockdown at the two-week mark tomorrow.

More exposure locations across Braddon, the city, Gungahlin and Holt were announced today as the number of exposures eclipsed 400.

People at the Bottlemart Express and Charcoal Rooster along Lowana Street in Braddon between 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm on Friday (20 August) and between the same time on Saturday (21 August) are considered to be casual contacts.

ALDI, Woolworths and Le Bon Melange Cafe in Gungahlin have all been listed as exposure sites on Sunday (22 August) between 9:50 am to 11:00 am, 10:20 am to 11:30 am and 9:35 am to 10:30 am respectively.

People at these locations at the respective times are also considered casual contacts, as is anyone who was at the Mawson Halal Market between 3:30 pm and 4:30 pm on Saturday.

The same instruction is in place for anyone who visited Holt IGA between 1:40 pm and 3:30 pm on Tuesday (24 August).

People at Coles on Bunda Street in the city and Woolworths Franklin between 3:00 pm to 4:10 pm and between 1:50 pm and 2:45 pm on Saturday respectively need to monitor for symptoms.

A full list of exposure sites can be accessed at www.covid19.act.gov.au.

The lockdown status of regional NSW will also have some bearing on the level of restrictions in the ACT but will not be the only factor determining the Territory’s path out of lockdown.

The current lockdown for regional NSW is due to end on 28 August, five days ahead of the ACT which is scheduled to emerge from lockdown on 2 September.

READ ALSO What I’ve learned from lockdown 2.0

Mr Barr indicated that he was not averse to having a different level of restrictions between the two jurisdictions, as was the case when the ACT announced its lockdown and areas in regional NSW like Queanbeyan were not subject to the same restrictions.

“It is very difficult to speculate. I need to see what measures [regional NSW] has in place. My presumption is that they would not go from lockdown to a free for all,” he said.

“Alignment is good but we are independent jurisdictions. If we have a few days where there is not an alignment of settings it is what it is, I cannot control what NSW do and we need to make decisions based on our own situation.

“[But] it would be odd for the surrounding Canberra region to have radically different settings from Canberra and NSW will obviously need to pay some attention to what we do.”

But Mr Barr was adamant that the Territory’s first priority was administering the vaccine and reaching a higher level of coverage before restrictions could be eased.

“We will come out of this … week by week as we continue to get our vaccination rate up,” he said. “But we are still two to three months away from the level of protection that mass vaccination provides.

“What we have seen in our own outbreak, and what is playing out around Australia and around the world, is just how quickly one positive case turns into hundreds and then thousands, particularly when that community is largely unvaccinated.

“Even though we are leading the nation, we still have more people that are unvaccinated and not fully protected by two doses that have been in their arms for at least three weeks past the jab date.”

Two-thirds of Canberrans have received at least one jab and almost 40 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

But vaccination rates among Canberra’s more vulnerable residents living with a disability remain markedly lower than the rest of the Territory but are above the national average.

Just over half of NDIS participants had received a first dose as of a week ago, despite being eligible under the rollout’s first phases, which began back in February.

Rates are higher for residential disability care residents where around three in four people have received at least one dose.

Just over half of screened workers in the sector had one dose.

The vaccination of residential disability care and aged care residents is primarily the Commonwealth’s responsibility.

READ ALSO Ken Behrens may be so last week, but long live Wally

Concerns have also been raised over vulnerable communities at the Condamine Court public housing complex after it was listed as an exposure site.

Residents have been tested after a positive case visited the complex. While no further positive results have been returned, not all test results of 15 contacts have been returned, Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the government was taking a people-centric approach when it came to supporting and monitoring people in the complex amid reports that residents were leaving the premises at night.

12.30 pm: The ACT’s new COVID-19 positive case numbers have returned to single figures.

Of the nine new cases announced at today’s press briefing, eight are linked to existing cases or sites, one is under investigation, and four were at least partially in the community while infectious. Two cases are household close contacts.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnson said this brings the total infections in the current outbreak to 176. Seven people have been hospitalised and one person is now in a critical condition in intensive care and receiving ventilation support. However, children have not been among the seriously ill at this stage.

While Dr Johnson warned that case numbers could still move around, she was “cautiously optimistic” about today’s numbers.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that while today’s lower numbers were a relief, there is now no prospect of exiting lockdown early. However, consideration is being given to easing some restrictions before the weekend.

“Put it this way, I would not be expecting a trip to Sydney in the next few months,” he said.

Mr Barr wouldn’t link the sewage fragments detected at Merimbula to ACT residents who had left for the South Coast. Earlier today, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said there were concerns “because of the proximity to Canberra and knowing that many Canberrans had moved down to the south coast”, but Mr Barr rejected the inference.

“I don’t think sewage detection is that sophisticated to be able to tell if it’s a Canberran’s poo or someone else’s,” Mr Barr said.

“Does John know something about the poo that other people don’t? I don’t know where he’s getting that from. If he’s got scientific evidence that can back it up that it’s Canberra poo, OK, but seriously?

“I’m just not interested in having who’s poo it was arguments with John Barilaro at the moment”.

Dr Johnson said that 10,800 close contacts in quarantine are still being managed.

“It is critical to continue to do the right thing: get tested if you have symptoms no matter how mild they are,” she said.

There are now 5500 casual contacts and more than 400 exposure locations. Dr Johnson urged everyone to keep up to date with daily changes and additions to the locations on the government’s COVID-19 website.

CIT Reid has now been added to the list of 10 public transmission sites.

READ ALSO What’s happened to our Spring weather? You can blame Sydney for that, too

Dr Johnson said ACT Health had not yet contacted some people about how to come out of quarantine. To deal with these enquiries there is now a dedicated option on the COVID-19 hotline for people who believe they are eligible to leave lockdown. Contact details will also be available on social media and the website.

“I know any delay is frustrating, but the negative test on day 12 to 13 is really critical before we allow people out of quarantine. That will minimise the risk to the community,” Dr Johnson said.

She asked for patience at testing sites while people leaving quarantine are being processed. She reiterated that everyone who has been in quarantine must wait for both a negative test on day 12 to 13 and contact from ACT Health before returning to the community.

A total of 6695 tests were performed yesterday and all sites are open today although Gold Creek is providing targeted testing.

A record number of vaccinations were delivered yesterday and Dr Johnson said this was “allowing us to inch ever closer to living in new COVID-normal circumstances”.

Mr Barr said that while the ACT’s vaccination program was moving as quickly as possible, the ACT is still two to three months away from the level of community protection provided by mass vaccination.

“What we’ve seen in our own outbreak and around the world is just how quickly one positive case turns into hundreds and then thousands when that community is largely unvaccinated,” he said.

“We still have a majority of people unvaccinated, as in two vaccinations in their arm, weeks past the jab date. This remains our aim, to get more people vaccinated more quickly.”

Mr Barr said announcements about restrictions will be made shortly as the Government seeks to balance the risks against ongoing restrictions.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said that arrangements were now being finalised to allow student nurses, midwives and other practitioners to join the vaccination workforce and provide relief for hard-pressed ACT Health staff ahead of an anticipated vaccine supply boost.

One more positive case has been linked to the disability cluster and Minister Stephen-Smith again thanked disability community leaders for their advocacy and advice. She urged people living with a disability to discuss COVID-19 issues with their service providers or call the COVID-19 helpline.

Testing for people with disability or who are mobility impaired is available today and tomorrow at Erindale. There is no need to book ahead, but people should notify the security guard when they arrive.

“This is a better outcome than yesterday, but these numbers will jump around from day to day. Seven people are hospitalised, we do not yet have a trend,” Mr Barr said.

11:55 am: Chief Minister Andrew Barr has announced nine new COVID-19 cases in the ACT, bringing the total number to 176.

Yesterday there were 30 new cases.

Eight of the new cases have a known origin and one is under investigation.

Three were in quarantine during their entire infectious period, four were in the community and two are being assessed.

Seven people are currently in hospital with COVID-19 although some have pre-existing conditions.

One person is in ICU in critical condition at The Canberra Hospital.

Around 2700 vaccines were administered at government clinics yesterday, and around 2000 in other locations.

Mr Barr stressed the importance of the vaccine in protecting Canberra, especially from decisions in other jurisdictions.

UPDATED 11:10 am: Fragments of the delta variant has been found in wastewater at Merimbula, local MP Andrew Constance confirmed on Facebook.

A pop-up testing clinic is being set up in the area later today. Mr Constance said the results were a timely reminder for people to get vaccinated and stay at home to minimise the spread of the highly contagious strain.

The news came as NSW recorded 919 cases on Wednesday morning (25 August) and two deaths, including a woman in her 30s who died at home. The death is being investigated by the state’s coroner.

The second death was a man in his 80s who caught the virus at the Greenwood Aged Care facility.

READ ALSO Surviving (another) lockdown: Dr Thewes on finding routine, home-schooling and limiting screen time

10:40 am: A laundry facility at Kinloch Lodge at ANU, Laverty Pathology Gungahlin and a host of supermarkets, takeaway locations and public transport routes have been added to the growing list of exposure sites across Canberra.

There are now 370 exposure locations across Canberra where people have been identified as either a close or casual contact, or are being told to monitor for symptoms.

People at Urban Fusion Massage in Harrison between 6:15 pm and 8:30 pm on Wednesday, 11 August and Laverty Pathology Gungahlin between 7:45 am and 8:30 am on the same date are close contacts and must get tested and isolate for 14 days.

Three light rail journeys on Saturday afternoon (21 August) have also been listed, with people travelling at these times now classified as casual contacts:

  • 2:41 pm to 3:03 pm from Ipima Street to Nullarbor Avenue
  • 3:35 pm to 3:54 pm from Nullarbor Avenue to Alinga Street, and
  • 4:38 pm to 4:48 pm from Alinga Street to Ipima Street.

If you are a casual contact, follow the advice from ACT Health.

IGA in Denman Prospect, Woolworths in Weston Creek, Crust Pizza in Weston and Coles Manuka have all been listed as exposure locations with people at the sites during the designated times being told to monitor for symptoms.

A full list of exposure sites is available at www.covid19.act.gov.au.

At 10:15 am this morning, ACT Health provided updated wait times for COVID-19 testing sites:

  • Drive Through COVID-19 Testing at Exhibition Park in Canberra: 2+ hours
  • Drive Through COVID-19 Testing at Kambah: 1.5+ hours
  • Weston Creek Walk-in Centre COVID-19 Testing Clinic: 10+ mins
  • Gold Creek School Pop-up COVID-19 Testing Facility: targeted testing only.

The government has now brought in provisions that allow the Chief Health Officer to specify that groups of people – including student health practitioners – will be able to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

The move came after more than 500 community members with a nursing or medical background rejoined the workforce as around 700 Canberra Health Services staff entered either quarantine or isolation.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman was “considering medical and other student health practitioners to come on board as soon as possible”.

Suitable students will be inducted, trained and supervised to ensure the ACT community is receiving safe and quality care, Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Ms Stephen-Smith and Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston will update the ACT’s COVID-19 situation at 11:45 am.

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Makes alot of sense.
And close the border to NSW (except our neighbours)

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