The ACT Government has extended the COVID-19 public health emergency for a further 90 days to 19 November. The decision grants Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman additional powers to help combat the pandemic.
The first public health emergency declaration came into effect on 16 March and was extended until this Friday (21 August).
Despite the ACT having no active cases of COVID-19 for three weeks, and no new cases in more than five weeks, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says the decision has been made in light of the uncertainty of the pandemic in Australia.
“This decision has been made based on advice provided by the ACT Chief Health Officer in light of the unfolding situation across Australia,” she said.
“The extension of the emergency declaration will enable the Chief Health Officer to continue to take any action, or give any direction, considered to be necessary to protect Canberrans and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the ACT.”
The public health emergency has allowed the CHO to enact directions mandating self-isolation in certain circumstances, banning Victorians from entering the ACT and restricting access to residential aged care facilities. Almost 500 people remain in quarantine in the ACT with the assistance of ACT Health.
“While we are in a good position in the ACT it is likely there will be further outbreaks in Australia in the coming weeks and months. We need to remain vigilant as we closely monitor the situation across the country and manage the risks these outbreaks present to the ACT,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“Our Recovery Plan is focused on minimising risk as restrictions are eased and putting in place appropriate measures to manage these risks as best as possible. There are no immediate plans to ease restrictions further at this time, but we will plan for future easing of restrictions when the situation supports that.
“We will continue to take a cautious, measured approach to protect the health and safety of Canberrans and our economy.”
Dr Coleman will undertake the final checkpoint today (20 August) to decide whether or not to ease restrictions in the Territory further. Minor restrictions were eased a fortnight ago as the Territory moved to stage 3.1 of its plan, although Dr Coleman flagged that any major changes are unlikely.
Minister Stephen-Smith set the bar at a significant improvement in the situation in Victoria and to be confident that there is no risk of community transmission in NSW coming into the ACT before any further restrictions could be eased.
“The next stage of easing restrictions would be an increase in the number of people who can gather together and that does create an increased risk,” she said.
Decisions are made on a fortnightly basis.
Ms Stephen-Smith says it is up to all Canberrans to help minimise the spread of the virus in the ACT and prevent community transmission to protect the most vulnerable people.
“COVID-19 has impacted our community greatly and we will support Canberrans through this, focusing on the economic and community recovery of our city as we respond to the evolving public health situation,” she said.
“What we are seeing around the world and in Victoria, and now in New Zealand, is that this pandemic is far from over and that new cases can come up.
“We are continuing to ask Canberrans to maintain the behaviours we have all learnt over the past months: keep your physical distance, practice good hand hygiene and stay at home if you are unwell and get tested for any COVID-19 symptoms.”
For more information on restrictions and the ACT’s COVID-19 situation, visit www.covid19.act.gov.au.