UPDATED 3:30 pm: Face masks will be mandatory in indoor settings from midnight tonight (21 December) in an attempt to curb the rapid transmission of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 around the ACT.
New restrictions on visitors at residential aged care facilities will also be imposed from midnight.
Residents will be restricted to five visitors per day with a maximum of five visitors at any one time, although there will be no daily limit on the number of visitors for end-of-life visits.
Masks will be mandatory for staff and visitors, as they will be in all indoor retail settings, public transport, hospitality venues and indoor workplaces.
They can be removed when seated in a hospitality venue.
Acting Chief Minister Yvette Berry said wearing a mask indoors is a simple way for all Canberrans to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
“Wearing a mask indoors will help keep you and your family safe,” Ms Berry explained.
ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said she didn’t believe mask-wearing indoors to be too onerous a practice, and that it would serve as a simple way of combating rising Omicron cases.
Currently, there are 62 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the ACT, although authorities expect this number to be even higher in reality due to the long turnaround times in genomic sequencing and the impossibility of sequencing some samples.
That means half of the ACT’s active cases (124) are Omicron. Half of the cases sequenced in the ACT picked up their infection interstate and none have yet required hospitalisation.
Dr Coleman said the new variant will soon become the dominant one in the ACT, although she explained authorities would stop genomic sequencing in cases where it was highly likely they had picked up the Omicron variant from a household contact who was confirmed to have it.
Genomic testing, she said, could be a labour-intensive, lengthy and expensive process and there was a better use of staff resources.
The new restrictions will be in place over the Christmas and New Year period and will be reviewed in January. However, authorities are reserving the right to tighten restrictions should there be a “significant change” in the COVID-19 situation.
In the last week, the ACT recorded 91 new cases of COVID-19 – a significant increase from 36 in the previous week.
Dr Coleman described the rise in cases as an “unexpected emergency”.
11:50 am: Sixteen new cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the ACT in the latest reporting period to 8 pm yesterday, and state and territory leaders are preparing for an ‘informal’ National Cabinet tomorrow to discuss the implications of the Omicron variant as cases surge across the country and Australians prepare to travel for Christmas.
There are 124 active cases in the Territory. To 9 am this morning, 4516 negative test results were recorded.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he did not envisage Australia returning to lockdowns as some European countries are doing.
“We will make our Australian way through this,” he said.
According to Seven News this morning, Mr Morrison supports an indoor mask mandate.
An update is expected this afternoon from Acting Chief Minister Yvette Berry, Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman.
As mentioned by Ms Stephen-Smith yesterday, there’s been a marked increase in the number of COVID-19 exposure sites listed in the Territory. Sixty-three active exposure sites are listed by the ACT Government, as well as Murray’s bus routes, flights, and offices or workplaces that are not listed on the public-facing website.
A document signed by the Chief Health Officer contains all of the current local and interstate exposure sites as of yesterday.
Ms Stephen-Smith said yesterday the situation in NSW is being monitored closely and “active conversations” are occurring daily regarding possible changes to restrictions.
Of the Territory’s 12-plus population, 98.4 per cent are now fully vaccinated.
There are a total of three active and cleared cases in ACT hospitals as of 8 pm yesterday. None are in intensive care, and no one is on a ventilator in the ACT.
Yesterday, the ACT recorded 13 new cases of COVID-19 as large numbers of Canberrans turned out in droves for testing.
As at 11:45 this morning, the wait time at the Garran testing site is around 90 minutes, more than two hours at Kambah, and over 30 minutes at Nicholls. Due to lengthy queues, the Mitchell testing site has been closed to new arrivals.
ACT Health has requested people requiring a COVID test to attend the Nicholls facility at the Perce Douglas Memorial Playing Fields (entry via Clarrie Hermes Drive).
Interstate, new infections in NSW have once again hit a record high of 3057.
There are now 284 people in NSW hospitals with COVID-19 and 39 in ICU.
Yesterday there were 261 people in hospital across the state with the virus and 33 in ICU.
NSW Health said 94.9 per cent of the 16-plus population has received their first dose, and 93.4 per cent has had two doses of vaccine.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet continues to resist calls to reinstate masks or any other form of public health restrictions. He said it was now a time for “personal responsibility”.
However, Mr Perrottet did hint this could change if circumstances change.
Victoria recorded 1245 cases and six deaths.
In total, 392 Victorians are 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 13,355 active cases of the virus.