UPDATED 3:30 pm: Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith has confirmed no cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 have been detected in the ACT.
“ACT Health is aware of a small number of close contacts from Qatar Airways flight QR908 – that’s the flight where two returned travellers have tested positive to the variant – who may be in the ACT,” she said.
ACT and NSW health authorities are working urgently to contact trace those people, she said.
Ms Stephen-Smith noted fewer than five people are implicated in this.
ACT Health is currently contacting a small number of people who may have been in one of the countries of concern in southern Africa.
She said it was her understanding that the number of affected people was less than 15.
Ms Stephen-Smith echoed the sentiments of her Federal counterparts in saying it was too early to determine whether public health restrictions would tighten. But she did note that until more was known about this variant, restrictions would not ease.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr also urged caution, saying it would be some weeks before enough was known about the Omicron variant to make decisions and form a complete view of its profile.
“Some of the early indications are not overly concerning in terms of the mildness of the disease in the small number of cases so far in Africa, but there would appear to be some risk around heightened transmissibility,” he said.
“The important thing to think about in the medium-term is that the vaccine technology with the mRNA vaccines allows them to be adapted as new variants emerge.”
Mr Barr didn’t rule out adjusting public health settings but said it was more important to be calm for now. He also could not rule out a return to lockdown, saying it was “all hypothetical at the moment” and it would take this variant doing “something exceptional” for that to be necessary.
He referenced the ACT’s high-vaccination rate as another safety catch against lockdown.
“I think it’s premature to suggest we’d have to return to the sorts of public health settings we had when we didn’t have high vaccination coverage”.
Mr Barr said his attention would now be firmly on the booster program and ensuring that it ran smoothly before next winter.
The Chief Minister also said he would be somewhat disappointed if international students could not return to Australia as intended but noted this was ultimately a decision to be made by the Commonwealth.
National Cabinet is expected to meet tomorrow to discuss the challenges of Omicron, while the National Security Committee will meet this afternoon to make a decision on the border’ reopening’ scheduled for Wednesday, 1 December.
One additional case of the Omicron variant has now been detected in the Northern Territory quarantine facility at Howard Springs.
The man had travelled to Australia on a repatriation flight from South Africa.
A potential third case of the variant is also being investigated in NSW after two were detected over the weekend.
Several new casual contact locations were added to the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website this morning.
11:10 am: The ACT has again recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8 pm yesterday as the country waits for a National Cabinet meeting to be called shortly so state and territory leaders can discuss responses to the new Omicron variant.
Locally, a total of 1521 negative COVID-19 tests were received in the 24 hours to 9 am today; there are currently 154 active cases in the ACT.
There are a total of seven active and cleared cases in ACT hospitals as of 8 pm yesterday, including five in intensive care and four on ventilators.
Of the Territory’s 12-plus population, 97.7 per cent are now fully vaccinated.
Yesterday, the ACT recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 and ACT Health imposed stricter quarantine measures on international arrivals due to fears about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
No cases of this variant of concern have yet been identified in the ACT, but two cases were detected in NSW over the weekend.
On Saturday, the Federal Government announced that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique would be suspended for 14 days.
According to ACT Health, anyone who has been in the affected southern African countries in the last 14 days must get a PCR test and quarantine immediately until 14 days have passed since they last visited the country. Household members are also required to quarantine alongside them.
All fully vaccinated overseas travellers who have not visited these countries must also now quarantine until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, 30 November.
However, there are fears the Omicron variant could scupper these arrangements, with the National Security Committee meeting this afternoon to consider the decision to let these groups enter Australia.
This morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he intends to call a National Cabinet meeting of state and territory leaders to discuss how best to respond to the new strain. It’s unclear if the meeting will take place today or tomorrow.
Mr Morrison said it was still “too early” to make decisions on Australia’s borders and the potential reinstatement of quarantine given how little was still known about the new variant.
The Federal Government has already moved to place all overseas arrivals in isolation for 72 hours with a 14-day quarantine mandate in place for arrivals from the southern African countries of concern.
Only two COVID-19 exposure sites were added to the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website overnight.
Both are classed as casual exposures. Southern Cross Basketball Stadium (court one only) in Greenway is a venue of concern on Tuesday, 23 November, between 7 pm and 8 pm, while Erindale Healthcare is listed for Wednesday, 24 November, between 10:35 am and 11:40 am.
No new schools were listed as exposure sites over the weekend.
In NSW, there are 150 new cases and no deaths.
There are 170 people in hospitals across the state with the virus and 25 in ICU.
NSW Health said 94.5 per cent of the 16-plus population has received their first dose, and 92.24 per cent has had two doses.
In Victoria, there are 1007 new cases and three deaths.
There are 300 Victorians hospitalised with COVID-19, and 90 per cent of the state’s eligible population (12 and over) is fully vaccinated.
More to come.