8 September 2021

UPDATED: Residential construction prepares for COVID-safe return to work

| Dominic Giannini and Genevieve Jacobs
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ACT WorkSafe commissioner Jacqueline Agius

ACT WorkSafe commissioner Jacqueline Agius: inspectors will be enforcing COVID-safe compliance. Photo: Supplied.

UPDATED 2:15 pm: Around 13,000 residential construction workers are preparing to head back to work on Friday (10 September) with restrictions for the sector due to ease a month into the current lockdown.

Interaction between workers and residents is banned under the COVID-safe construction guidelines, which reflects the practice in NSW and Victoria, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.

“As with the larger construction sector, there will be stringent COVID-safe requirements in place to reduce the risk to constructors and to households,” Mr Barr said.

A further industry briefing will take place this afternoon (8 September) ahead of the sector’s reopening.

About 7000 workers in commercial construction were able to return to work on 3 September. The sector’s shutdown was criticised by Housing Industry Australia’s Executive Director Greg Weller who said the industry should have been considered essential work.

“We simply cannot go past [the] foreshadowed reopening date,” Mr Weller said, describing the impact the lockdown would have on the 100 families who have houses completed every month in Canberra.

“As a result of the extended lockdown, that means 100 families have to service a mortgage on a new home they cannot move into and continue to pay rent or a second mortgage where they live or impose on family and friends for longer than expected.

“During the pandemic, occupations have been classified as essential or non-essential, determining whether they can work or not. Putting a roof over the heads of Canberran families is surely an essential task.”

WorkSafe ACT and ACT Policing will be enforcing compliance across worksites.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at this morning COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

12:30 pm: There are 20 new COVID-19 diagnoses in the ACT over the past 24 hours, but Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has hit back at suggestions that residents of community housing are responsible for the spread, calling the discussion unfounded and discriminatory.

Of the 20 news cases, nine are linked to existing sources and 11 are under investigation.

Seven people were in quarantine during their whole infectious period, but at least seven spent some time in the community while six remain under investigation.

There’s a slight increase in hospitalisations to 10, two people are in intensive care, including one who is being ventilated.

Test numbers have increased to almost 3400, an encouraging sign for virus surveillance attempts.

At today’s COVID update, Ms Stephen-Smith said that the vast majority of Condamine Court and Ainslie Village residents had stayed the course in quarantine while receiving multi-agency and community sector support. On Monday, 100 people were tested on site at Ainslie and four returned positive results yesterday.

READ MORE Impossible for ACT to reach vaccination threshold for all residents with no under-12 vaccine

The positive cases are being supported to isolate elsewhere in designated accommodation, and there are no active cases on site. All other residents have been asked to stay at home for their own safety under the same conditions as close contacts across the ACT.

“It would be absolutely wrong and unfair to cast aspersions about residents who have tested positive or suggest they are responsible for the ongoing spread in the community,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“We’ve seen five separate incursions of COVID into the ACT. Every day we are still seeing cases who were infectious in the community from all walks of life.

“For most individuals, this is simply a reflection of the fact that the virus is out in our community and the delta strain is highly transmissible. People can generate a viral load and become infectious before they are even aware of it. The virus does not discriminate and nor should we.”

Testing was carried out yesterday at two other community housing destinations in the inner north with uniformly negative results.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said that of the total 424 cases, 231 remain active cases. Most diagnoses continue to occur in household contacts and the age range remains stable.

Over the course of the outbreak, 34 people have been hospitalised.

There are now 350 active exposure locations and six public transmission sites. Dr Johnston said that cases may have links to more than one exposure site and cases may be reclassified as investigations progress. When 14 days have passed without confirmed transmission, they are no longer classified as active.

The six currently active sites include the Bright Bees early learning centre with 38 cases, the Mirchi Indian restaurant with 11 cases including three new household contacts, Bidfood at Fyshwick (8), Ainslie Village (6), Busy Bees early learning centre (6), Priceline Woden (5) and KFC Dickson (4).

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that business compliance continues to be very good, although the focus remains on workers who are not wearing masks correctly or checking into their workplaces.

Yesterday the ACT set another vaccination record as 4737 people received their first or second dose.

Eighty per cent of 70-plus people are now fully vaccinated and the ACT is the first jurisdiction in Australia to achieve this status. Mr Barr said that based on first doses, this cohort will be over 95 per cent fully vaccinated in the coming months.

Ninety per cent of over 50s have had their first dose of vaccine and Mr Barr said there was confidence this cohort would also reach 95 per cent vaccination in the coming months. First dose rates in the 40 to 49 years cohort are also strongly encouraging.

Around 250,000 Canberrans have now received one dose of vaccine but Mr Barr warned that a lot of people were still to be vaccinated and this would take time.

Construction will resume across all sectors on Friday but Mr Barr said there would be no interaction between workers and residents on any premises, using COVID-safe measures that reflect the NSW and Victorian guidelines. There will be an industry briefing this afternoon.

“We will face a challenging few months until we exceed those vaccination targets that provide the community with the protection we need. We can only gradually ease restrictions,” Mr Barr said.

“Our primary goal is the health of the community. We are acutely aware of economic impacts and the mental wellbeing impact. But to be as blunt as I can be, if the virus gets out of control in Canberra we will experience even greater health and economic challenges than we are now. We can’t let that happen.”

Mr Barr said it was essential for people to continue coming forward for both testing and vaccination in order for the ACT to gently step out of the outbreak.

“If it goes the other way and we see our case numbers explode, we will not be able to ease restrictions in coming weeks.

“I know there are some people who really don’t seem to care about the rest of the community, but care about yourself and those closest to you,” Mr Barr said, reiterating that most transmission continues to happen in the home.

“That’s the saddest part of what we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks.”

The Garran surge centre is re-opening as a testing site from 2:00 pm today (8 September) for the general public and the access and sensory testing clinic. It will be open seven days per week from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm.

UPDATED 11.45 am The ACT has recorded 20 new COVID-19 cases to 8:00 pm last night.

Yesterday the ACT reported 19 new cases.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said nine cases are linked and 11 are under investigation. Seven were in quarantine for their infectious period, at least seven spent some time in the community and the remaining six are being investigated.

Currently, there are 10 people in hospital with COVID-19 and two are in intensive care. One person requires ventilation.

Yesterday, 3400 tests were conducted, which Mr Barr said gave “a good level of surveillance across the community”.

In compliance, ACT Policing conducted 662 traffic stops and issued just three directions to leave the ACT.

A record 4737 people received either their first or second dose of a vaccine.

More than 80 per cent of over-70s in the ACT are now fully vaccinated. Mr Barr believes the ACT is the first jurisdiction to reach this milestone.

READ MORE Impossible for ACT to reach vaccination threshold for all residents with no under-12 vaccine

At her COVID briefing, Gladys Berejiklian reported that NSW has recorded 1480 new cases and nine deaths.

Kristine McCartney from NSW Health said seven of the nine were not vaccinated. One person had had one dose and one person had had two doses. All those individuals had underlying health conditions.

Ms Berejiklian also reported that 75 per cent of eligible people in NSW have now received at least their first dose of vaccine and 42 per cent are fully vaccinated, “a number which is very pleasingly inching towards that 70 per cent double vaccination rate we’re all looking forward to, which we still will be around mid-October”.

In Victoria, Premier Dan Andrews announced 221 new local cases. Mr Andrews is expected to announce an easing of restrictions in regional Victoria today.

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Carpe diem. YOLO.

If people won’t stay home what can we expect. I face on to a main road and there is traffic on it all the time. There are between 20-40 cars parked at the entrance to the Mount Taylor track any time I go past to the supermarket. How do you pass that many people on that track and keep distances? Why are there so many people going there? My business is in difficulty because people will not stay home and isolate and the police are out booking speeding but not checking why people are outside their homes.

I hear you, although people are allowed outside their home for 2 hours a day to exercise.

What concerns me is that there is the casual attitude amongst a lot of people. Groups of people hanging around talking, sometimes without masks.

It’s not hard to wear a mask correctly. Why is it so hard for people to understand that wearing a mask also means covering their nose?

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