1 October 2021

UPDATED: 'Reasonably senior' prison staff member COVID positive, tensions rise at press conference

| Lottie Twyford and Genevieve Jacobs
Join the conversation
Alexander Maconochie Centre

A positive case has been confirmed at the prison for the second time in the ACT’s COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: File.

UPDATED 2 pm: Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman can’t rule out more cases at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) in the coming days after a “reasonably senior” member of prison staff tested positive to COVID-19.

The news came on the day the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced two deaths and 52 new cases – the ACT’s worst day in the pandemic so far.

Acting ACT Corrective Services Commissioner Ray Johnson would not reveal many details of the positive case, responding to a question about the individual’s role by saying only that it “depended on how you defined senior”, but they were “reasonably senior, yes”.

The staff member is fully vaccinated.

It’s also not known how many days the staff member worked while infectious, although Commissioner Johnson said it was likely to have been at least three.

These dates were Monday, 27 September to Wednesday, 29 September.

The prison was put into lockdown yesterday when the case was identified, say authorities.

Current procedures at the prison dictate that new detainees are tested and isolated upon being admitted to the site.

“We have had a number of cases who we know are positive when they are admitted to the site,” the Commissioner said.

Ray Johnson

Acting Commissioner Ray Johnson confirmed the case at the prison is a “reasonably senior” safe member. Photo: Michelle Kroll Region Media.

New detainees are kept separate from the rest of the population for five days while higher-risk cases can be quarantined for even longer, the Commissioner said.

Up until now, detainees have not been tested upon departure because, says Commissioner Johnson, “we haven’t previously had cases in the facility”.

It’s understood staff who may be close or casual contacts have been contacted and are being supported by ACT Health.

Staff have also been wearing full PPE when possible, and the movement of detainees and staff has also been restricted where possible.

Regarding vaccination, Commissioner Johnson said prison staff are supporting detainees to complete the vaccination process upon their release.

Week-old data suggests vaccination rates among inmates are sitting around 63 per cent double dose and 72 per cent first dose.

“In terms of corrections officers or any corrections staff, they’ve been given the opportunity for vaccines and have been strongly encouraged to get vaccinated,” Commissioner Johnson said, and he understood the uptake has been very high among staff.

There is currently no vaccine mandate in place for Corrections staff.

READ ALSO Gran’s diary of family life with COVID-19 hits home

The news came as a visibly tense Chief Minister and Health Minister defended various aspects of the ACT’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and criticised media reporting and the mechanisms through which National Cabinet is currently operating.

According to Chief Minister Andrew Barr, while National Cabinet has its strengths, one of its weaknesses is the “disrespect” with which state and territory leaders are treated, with lengthy papers handed down to them with little notice.

Mr Barr said this only served to drag out the decision-making process across multiple meetings because attendees had not been given adequate time to review the papers.

The Chief Minister also noted the lack of “media bombardment” of Liberal leaders such as Tasmania’s Peter Gutwein and South Australia’s Steven Marshall who had both indicated that their state border would not be opened until 90 per cent double-dose vaccination was reached.

Mr Barr compared this to the blasting Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk and Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan have both received in the media.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith also appeared to be frustrated by repeated questioning in the last few days regarding an individual exemptions matter.

Having repeatedly said she cannot and will not comment on individual matters in press conferences, the Minister today noted she’d learned of this particular matter through media reporting.

The article to which she was referring had been published recently, in which it’s alleged a South Coast woman and her husband were denied an exemption to travel to a pre-arranged cardiologist appointment in the ACT.

However, in response to the claims put to her, she said these individual circumstances had arisen due to a miscommunication and the individuals had now been contacted by ACT Health staff in order to resolve the issue.

Ms Stephen-Smith said it had not been an issue caused by a lack of resourcing, saying “all of the exemptions team are working incredibly hard”.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith also defended the running of the Access and Sensory vaccination clinic, saying an individual bad experience should not be allowed to discourage other people – particularly those with disabilities – from getting vaccinated.

“It is absolutely vital that people with a disability feel confident when getting vaccinated,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith also noted that the disability community had been consulted with regarding aspects of the clinic. She said most of the feedback she had received had been incredibly positive.

Additional exposure sites – both casual and monitor for symptoms sites – have been added to the ACT Government’s COVID-19 exposure site list this afternoon.

The casual locations are in the suburbs of Hawker, Denman Prospect and Woden, while the monitor for symptoms locations are in the City, Coombs, Dickson, Greenway, Griffith, Hawker, Holt, Kingston and Wanniassa.

Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at this morning’s COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

UPDATED 12:30 pm: Two people in their 80s have died and 52 new cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in what Chief Minister Andrew Barr has called “the toughest day of our pandemic response so far”.

Both of those who died were residents of the Calvary Haydon aged care facility at Bruce and were receiving end-of-life care.

“I speak for the entire community in sending condolences to the family and friends of these Canberrans who have lost their lives to the virus,” Mr Barr said at today’s COVID briefing.

“This is a number we didn’t want to see, a record daily caseload for the ACT.

“This is a difficult and challenging day for Canberra.”

Forty of the 52 cases are linked and 12 remain under investigation. More than half are household contacts and 17 were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period. However, at least 31 were infectious in the community. Eleven people are hospitalised and three are in intensive care, all requiring ventilation.

Mr Barr said that most cases were linked to a series of clusters around essential workplaces. The 7 London Circuit construction site is now associated with 26 cases, including household contacts; 19 cases are associated with the Calvary Haydon cluster.

One new case is associated with the Alexander Maconochie Centre, a staff member who was fully vaccinated. The AMC is now in lockdown in accordance with its management plan. Testing will be conducted today.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said that the outbreak now totals 887 cases. ACT Health is managing 275 active cases.

A total of 3875 tests were carried out yesterday.

“I know today’s case numbers will be concerning,” Dr Coleman said, but she added that some high and low numbers do not necessarily make a trend, and without current social measures, it was likely the ACT would have seen the exponential increase that occurred elsewhere.

“We can’t be complacent at this point in our journey. We do expect when people move around there will be an increase in cases, but it will need to be controlled. We are still in lockdown. It is working. We need to continue to do our job,” she said.

“Now is not the time to look for loopholes or engage in large social gatherings. We have our vaccination goals in sight. Let’s hang in there.”

The Chief Minister said that today’s increase will come as a shock to many, but it was an important reminder that the virus is active in our community.

“When we get to higher vaccination rates and further reduce public health measures, daily case numbers like this will become the norm,” he said.

“The next two weeks will be the toughest we have experienced. We ask Canberrans to keep doing the right thing. You cannot let your guard down now. We’ve come this far; we can’t let this get out of control in the next two weeks. Please listen to the health advice so we can end this lockdown as safely as possible.”

The ACT has become the first jurisdiction to reach 90 per cent first dose vaccination for the 12-plus population, giving confidence that 90 per cent or more of Canberrans will be fully vaccinated within the next two weeks.

Currently, 62 per cent of eligible Canberrans are fully vaccinated.

Mr Barr said that tens of thousands of second doses were still necessary to get to 80 per cent full vaccination before lockdown ends. He urged anyone waiting for a first dose to make it a priority, adding that thousands of bookings were available throughout ACT Government clinics, GPs and pharmacies.

National Cabinet will meet this afternoon and Mr Barr said that the agenda is significant. It will include discussions on booster and third-dose policies, Indigenous vaccination, public health system capacity, the new Doherty Institute modelling, further TTIQ policy (test, trace, isolate, quarantine), home quarantine, authenticated vaccination records, international travel and aged care visitation, mandatory vaccination for health care workers, the role of ventilation in indoor spaces, re-opening schools, mental health support, and economic and business support.

Mr Barr said that the ACT would continue to contribute to “a broad and far-reaching national agenda” and that he would report back to the community tomorrow on any decisions made.

UPDATED 11:55 am: Chief Minister Andrew Barr has announced 52 new COVID-19 cases in the ACT – the highest number since the pandemic began.

Yesterday, the ACT recorded 31 new cases.

Mr Barr began this morning’s briefing by announcing the deaths of two Canberrans in the Calvary Haydon Aged Care facility from COVID-19.

The two residents were in their 80s and receiving end-of-life care.

Of the 52 new cases, 40 are linked and 12 are under investigation. More than half are household contacts. At least 31 cases were infectious in the community.

Eleven people are hospitalised with COVID and three are in intensive care requiring ventilation.

A total of 3875 tests were conducted yesterday.

The ACT is the first jurisdiction to reach 90 per cent first-dose vaccination rates for the 12-plus population, which Mr Barr said was a “tremendous achievement”.

NSW recorded 864 new cases and 15 deaths. Of the deaths, three were aged in their 50s, two in their 60s, two in their 70s, six in their 80s and two people were in their 90s.

Yesterday, NSW recorded 941 cases and six deaths.

Victoria has recorded 1143 new cases and three deaths. Yesterday, 1438 cases were recorded and five deaths.

Vaccination clinic

The ACT has now hit 90 per cent first dose vaccination. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

According to Commonwealth data, the ACT has now hit 90.1 per cent first dose vaccination rates for the population aged over 16 years, and 63.7 per cent of the 16-plus population is now fully vaccinated.

The ACT Government is using a different measure from the Commonwealth, including children aged 12 years and above in their population counts.

According to ACT Health, 61.1 per cent of the population aged over 12 years have now received two doses of the vaccine.

It’s a nation-leading first-dose figure for over-16s, only slightly above NSW with an 87.2 per cent first dose rate and 64 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Nationally, 54.2 per cent of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated.

READ ALSO Is it time for science to prevail over COVID-19 vaccine opinion?

New exposure locations have been added overnight to the ACT Government’s COVID-19 exposure site list, but no close contact sites have been listed.

Many of these are located in Tuggeranong, including Southside Physiotherapy Tuggeranong in Greenway, which is listed on Monday, 27 September between 11:45 am and 1 pm, and Biteful Kebabs, Greenway, on the same day between 3:30 pm and 4:30 pm.

The Chisholm takeaway is also listed on Monday, 27 September between 1:25 pm and 2:15 pm, as is the Communities@Work – Community Pantry on the same day between 1:20 pm and 2:20 pm and the IGA Isabella Plains between 3:50 pm and 4:45 pm.

Coles Chisholm is a casual contact site on Sunday, 26 September between 6:10 pm and 7 pm.

On Saturday, 25 September, the Chisholm Takeaway is a casual contact site between 11:55 am and 12:50 pm, as is McDonald’s Erindale between 10:20 am and 11:15 am.

Cellarbrations Erindale is a casual contact site on Friday, 24 September between 12:30 pm and 2 pm.

In Canberra’s North, Grill’d Belconnen is a casual contact site on Sunday, 26 September between 11:40 am and 8:30 pm, Breizh Cafe in Ainslie is a site on Saturday, 25 September between 11:50 am and 12:35 pm.

On Friday, 24 September, casual contact sites include Enhance Healthcare Mitchell between 12:30 and 2 pm, and Kukula’s Canberra City between 6:50 pm and 7:40 pm.

On Wednesday, 22 September, Supabarn Casey is a casual contact site between 7 pm and 8:05 pm.

Bus Route 4 between Woden Interchange to Tuggeranong Interchange on Friday, 24 September between 7:50 am and 8:02 am is also a casual contact site.

READ ALSO Is COVID-19 creating divide between city and country?

Twenty-three new monitor for symptoms locations have been added around Canberra in Belconnen, Calwell, the City, Chisholm, Conder, Griffith, Hawker, Holt, Kambah, Kingston, Macquarie, Melba and Wanniassa.

The list is dominated by supermarkets, chemists, restaurants and takeaways.

Village Dental Care Kambah is a monitor for symptoms location on Monday, 27 September between 3 pm and 4 pm.

See the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website for more details.

The ACT yesterday recorded 31 new COVID-19 cases while southern NSW recorded another 26 new cases.

An update is expected from Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, and ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman at 11:45 am.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

So, you are concerned that the current reporting of case numbers is creating fear in the community. What then should we do when we get peak cases of a thousand and deaths in the low teens? Report the numbers and risk fear in the community or hide the numbers and let the fittest survive?

Ken, survival of the fittest is what we’ve signed up for, what all countries have signed up for. Because even with a fully vaccinated population the virus will still pick off the elderly, overweight and those with underlying conditions. The vaccine is no substitute for good health so we need to be realistic with that.

Barr has admitted the situation will be bleak. He said 20 ICU beds is capacity and half will be filled with regional NSW patients. So reporting daily case numbers will not help. The government’s strategy needs to pivot away from testing ( which will become meaningless) to managing the load on hospitals. But once you fill 20 ICU beds there is nothing to report. Hence we should just get on with living our lives and not be fed the alarming and meaningless statistics. We don’t report daily cancer deaths, road fatalities, etc. They also burden the hospitals but that is why I pay my rates isn’t it? It’s their job to manage healthcare and not report it to us as though we can do something about it. We can’t. As fully vaccinated individuals there is nothing else the government should expect from us.

Given we are likely to peak at close to a thousand daily cases when we open up these daily case numbers should no longer be reported. Vaccination prevents hospitalisation but does not prevent transmission so even when we have hundreds of cases the death toll should still be in the low teens in Canberra. We’ve become so fixated on case numbers that it’s creating fear amongst the community when the actual health risks are minor for vaccinated people. We should be viewing Covid as something normal that everyone will eventually catch and not something we should be stopping our lives to avoid at all costs.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.