3 March 2022

ACT's daily COVID-19 cases drop below 700; Health Minister says CHO's media absence a 'conspiracy theory'

| Lottie Twyford
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Kerryn Coleman

Over the summer, some media outlets and social media chatter tried to make up ‘conspiracy theories’ about why Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman was absent from COVID-19 media briefings. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT has reported 690 new cases of COVID-19 in the latest reporting period, and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has hit out at “conspiracy theories” about Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman’s absences from COVID-19 media briefings over the summer period.

Ms Stephen-Smith told an annual reports hearing yesterday there had been an agreement she would manage media during the peak of the Omicron wave which the Territory experienced over the summer because of Dr Coleman’s workload.

She said the CHO had been busier than usual due to staff shortages.

“Obviously, coming into the December period, we had come out of a very significant response to the Delta wave where no one knew that Omicron was coming. A lot of people were planning to take very well-deserved leave and breaks and spend time with their families – including people who support the Chief Health Officer in her relatively small team,” Ms Stephen-Smith explained.

“Then we hit the Omicron wave and people had been extraordinarily busy trying to manage that and its impact on high-risk settings like aged care and childcare.

“There was a lot of work that was going on in the background that was not particularly visible to the public to support those sectors and understand what was happening … all with fewer staff to do so,” she told the hearing.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said there had been an agreement she would manage media over the summer due to a stretched workforce. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Therefore, there had been an agreement Ms Stephen-Smith would manage media.

“It does take time and effort to prepare for press conferences and to do the radio interviews and the [CHO’s] team was incredibly busy.”

Dr Coleman was present at the recent major press conference when the rules around mask changes were announced.

Ms Stephen-Smith admitted that “with the wisdom of hindsight, it may have been better if [Dr Coleman] had made a couple more appearances in the media”, but no media outlets had asked for her to appear.

“It’s not the feedback we were hearing at the time and now people are looking back and trying to put some conspiracy on this,” she said.

Some have sought to compare the appearances of Dr Coleman to the number of times the Queensland and NSW Chief Health Officers fronted the media, but Ms Stephen-Smith argued this was hardly justifiable given the difference in the size of the ACT’s team compared with the two larger states’ public health teams.

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Locally, today’s caseload of 690 has been identified from 384 PCR and 306 RAT results and takes the ACT’s active caseload to 3858 (1943 PCR and 1915 RAT).

Yesterday there were 1053 new cases.

In total, 51,916 (35,981 PCR and 15,935 RAT) cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the ACT since the pandemic began.

There are 39 people in hospital with COVID and two people in the ICU. None require ventilation. Yesterday, there were 40 in hospital.

The vaccination rate for the ACT’s 12-plus population remains 98.6 per cent, while 68.5 per cent of residents aged 16 and older have received a booster.

Of ACT residents aged 5 to 11, 78.6 per cent have received one dose.

READ ALSO Proposed pandemic management bill attracted record opposition from interstate and overseas

Interstate, NSW has reported nine deaths overnight and 11,338 new cases.

There are now 1035 people in hospital with the virus and 43 people in ICUs around the state.

Victoria has reported 23 deaths overnight and an additional 7093 cases of COVID-19.

There are now 262 people hospitalised with the virus and 33 patients in intensive care units in the state.

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