17 December 2021

UPDATED: Domestic travel causes surge in COVID testing demand; ACT records 11 cases

| Lottie Twyford
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The drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Kambah.

EPIC is again experiencing long wait times, which Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith has attributed to a spike in demand for COVID-19 testing for domestic travel purposes. Photo: Canberra Health Services.

ACT Health authorities are calling for patience and calm as COVID-19 testing centres around the Territory are subject to extreme demand, likely driven by a need for COVID-19 tests for domestic travel.

Wait times over four hours have been recorded at the EPIC testing clinic. As of midday today, more than 2,500 COVID-19 tests had been conducted across the Territory.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said, anecdotally at least, almost half of the people getting tested were doing so for domestic travel purposes, and entire carloads of people arriving to get tested were slowing down the usual process.

A similar surge in demand was experienced yesterday as the ACT conducted more than 4500 COVID-19 tests. Yesterday afternoon (15 December), ACT Health asked Canberrans to wait until today for a test because wait times had spiralled out of control.

To cope with the surge in demand, testing capacity will be ramped up over the weekend, Ms Stephen-Smith said. A pop-up testing clinic will be set up at Dickson College this Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm. According to the minister, demand at the clinic will be reviewed on Saturday. If required, it may also operate on Sunday.

Staffing will be surged at all clinics to cope with the demand.

She urged people to stay up to date with wait times published on ACT Health’s social media and attend the clinics with shorter lines. The busiest periods of the day are proving to be first thing in the morning and after 4 pm.

“If you can get tested at another time, please do so,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith pleaded with Canberrans to only go and get tested if they needed to. Neither Victoria nor NSW require COVID-19 tests for ACT travellers.

“Please don’t come forward for testing if you’re asymptomatic and only travelling in Victoria and NSW,” she urged.

Patience, courtesy and respect to staff were also called for.

Despite this surge in demand, the EPIC testing centre will shut from 10 pm tomorrow. A new testing facility will open at 2 Tooth Street, Mitchell, on Saturday morning.

Canberra Raiders

A member of the Canberra Raiders staff has tested positive for COVID-19 and players are now in isolation awaiting test results. Photo: Canberra Raiders (May 2021).

The ACT has recorded 11 new cases of COVID-19 in the last reporting period to 8 pm last night, including a member of the Canberra Raiders staff.

With the additional cases, there are now 61 active cases in the Territory. To 9 am this morning, 2491 negative test results were recorded.

As of yesterday, the Territory has reported 14 Omicron cases – although one has recovered.

Of the Territory’s 12-plus population, 98.3 per cent are now fully vaccinated.

There are a total of three active and cleared cases in ACT hospitals as of 8 pm yesterday, including one in intensive care. No one is on a ventilator in the ACT.

Canberra Raiders players are in isolation as they await test results after a member of the club’s staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The Raiders have now put pre-season training on hold and will reconvene after Christmas.

A positive case has also been recorded in the Newcastle Knights team, while two cases were recorded at a camp for emerging players in NSW.

Testing sites have reopened across the Territory this morning to long queues. ACT Health has estimated there is a three-hour wait at the EPIC site. There’s also a one-and-a-half-hour wait at Garran.

Last night, ACT Health asked Canberrans to wait until this morning before getting a COVID-19 test as sites across the Territory were at full capacity.

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Yesterday, the ACT recorded seven new cases of COVID-19, and Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith announced the ACT would halve its quarantine requirements for close contacts of Omicron cases to seven days, down from 14.

Unvaccinated close contacts of any COVID-19 variant will still require 14 days of quarantine.

The ACT also removed all restrictions on domestic travel at midnight last night. People are no longer required to complete a declaration or apply for an exemption to enter the Territory. Some restrictions may apply if a traveller is deemed a close contact interstate.

Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston urged people to continue to use “common sense” and to continue exhibiting “COVID-safe behaviours”.

New exposure sites listed overnight are once again popular hospitality venues. On Thursday, 9 December, White Chaco is Braddon is listed as a casual contact site between 7:10 pm and 8:30 pm.

On Monday, 13 December, three Braddon locations are also listed as casual contact sites. These are Bentspoke Brewing Co between 8 pm and 9:30 pm, Midnight Bar between 6:15 pm and 10 pm and Marble & Grain between 10:45 am and 12:20 pm.

No new schools have been added as exposure sites.

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In NSW, new COVID-19 cases have today rocketed to 1742 – the state’s highest-ever daily total.

As of this morning, the state’s total number of Omicron cases stands at 110.

The previous new-case record was 1603 on 11 September.

There are 192 people in hospitals across the state with the virus and 26 in ICU.

NSW Health said 94.8 per cent of the 16-plus population has received their first dose, and 93.3 per cent has had two doses.

Since yesterday, density limits, proof of vaccination, masks and check-ins are no longer required for the majority of venues across the state.

It’s also the first time in months NSW has recorded more infections than Victoria where 1622 new COVID-19 cases and nine deaths were reported.

There are 346 Victorians hospitalised with COVID-19. As of Friday, 92 per cent of the state’s eligible population (12 and over) is fully vaccinated.

Across the entire state, there are 12,252 active cases of the virus.

More to come.

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