The ACT Government will extend the current testing regime for COVID-19 indefinitely, as National Cabinet prepares to announce another round of relaxations to social restrictions.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith urged anybody with flu or cold-like symptoms to get tested, praising the more than 1000 people who did so over the past three days, about 10 per cent of the total number so far.
The so-called two week testing blitz of people with symptoms was due to end tomorrow but it will now continue as federal health authorities consider widening the net even further as a condition of easing restrictions.
National Cabinet is expected to announce more relaxations tomorrow but Chief Minister Andrew Barr said there would then be a pause for several weeks to assess the situation before any further easing is contemplated.
Ms Stephen-Smith said expanding testing was one of a number of criteria National Cabinet has been considering when looking at easing restrictions so any clusters or hot spots can be tackled quickly.
”One of those criteria is that we have really good surveillance in the community that we are able to pick up any cases of COVID-19 really quickly, that our disease detectives can swing into action and investigate cases and do the contact tracing to ensure we minimise any chain of transmission and new cases,” she said
Mr Barr said governments needed to be ready should there be a further wave of COVID-19 and they were very concerned about localised outbreaks.
”There is that risk,” he said. “These are uncharted waters, we do not know what is coming next. What we can do is put in place contingency plans and respond to the circumstances as they present themselves.
”So it’s highly irresponsible to be declaring the pandemic over. It’s important that we remain focused on the challenges before us right now.”
Mr Barr was referring to Opposition Leader Alistair Coe’s comments on ABC radio this morning expressing surprise that the ACT Government had not been prepared to reopen schools immediately rather than the staged approach announced.
”They seemed to be surprised by the fact that the pandemic has ended,” said Mr Coe, who later walked back from the comment.
Mr Barr said the pandemic was not over and the community needed to learn to live with the virus but with sensible, balanced adjustments.
He repeated warnings that it would be a miracle if there were no new cases in the ACT.
”We are planning for reality that there will be but we can’t live our lives in lockdown so we are making small, gradual, measured assessed and thoroughly researched steps out of the situation we are in,” he said.
ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations President, Kirsty McGovern-Hooley welcomed the government’s staged plan for a return to face to face learning but said parents’ views were mixed.
She said remote learning was not really working for the early years, and wasn’t tenable for students in specialist schools, whose parents and carers were desperate for support.
”Parents need really clear communication around the plan for return, offers of help and support, and the details of new protocols and procedures, like where to drop off and pick up kids, sanitising, absences and so on,” she said.
The Council is asking for support for families in the transition, schools to directly contact vulnerable families to see what they need and for the Directorate to continue to work with After School Care providers to ensure families have the services they need.
ACT Health reported no new cases of COVID-19 today and the ACT’s total is still 107.
A total of 103 cases have recovered from COVID-19 and have been released from self-isolation.
The ACT has recorded three deaths.
The number of negative tests in the ACT is now 10,371.
For further information visit www.covid19.act.gov.au.