14 October 2021

UPDATED: Better modelling offers hope as health system readies for COVID surge

| Ian Bushnell
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Rachel Stephen-Smith COVID briefing

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith: We’re ready. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

UPDATED 3 pm: The ACT health system is preparing for a gradual increase in case numbers and hospital admissions rather than a spike as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

The latest modelling before the ACT exits lockdown tomorrow shows an improvement in the likely number of hospital and intensive care admissions, due mainly to the increasing and high rate of vaccination, according to Canberra Health Services interim CEO Dave Peffer.

A few weeks ago, the modelling showed 30 hospital and 10 ICU admissions, but now that has come down to 10-17 and 6-8, although the situation has been described as a moveable feast.

Mr Peffer would not put a figure on the number of daily cases the ACT would experience but said they would increase in the 10s.

He said it was expected that case numbers would rise and plateau before falling as the vaccination rate increased.

Previously Health Minister Rachel Minister Stephen-Smith had said daily case numbers could rise to anywhere between 50 and 100.

But with a double-dose vaccination rate at 74.7 per cent closing in on 99 per cent, case numbers will become less critical.

Nonetheless, both Ms Rachel Stephen-Smith and Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the ACT’s hospitals would be under pressure and called for the Commonwealth to ease the load, particularly through moving long-stay patients into aged care and NDIS accommodation to free up more beds.

Mr Peffer said that Canberra’s hospitals were down 56 staff who were in quarantine, and there were 13 affected by a positive case in the Canberra Region Cancer Centre.

Ms Stephen-Smith reassured the community that Canberra hospitals were planning for the expected increase in demand.

She said staff had been boosted, there were dedicated wards, the ability to scale up the ICU, a good store of ventilators, 40 pressure rooms and personal ventilation hoods for hospital beds that increase protection between patients and staff.

Canberra’s responsibilities to the region and its likely increased cases had also been factored into the planning, but Ms Stephen-Smith said demand would be less than expected due to strong vaccination take-up across the border.

Mr Barr was again forced to defend his cautious approach to reopening Canberra’s economy, saying the pathway put public health first and ensured the safest activities are restarting and the riskiest ones wait until more of the population is vaccinated.

“Economic activity is entirely linked to the success of the public health response. Open up too early, have another outbreak, the loss of consumer confidence will be devastating,” he said.

“Let’s not just think about the next two weeks. Let’s think about the rest of the year.”

Mr Barr said he did not want to see a yo-yo-ing of public health restrictions and having to go back into targeted lockdowns.

“The most certainty you can get is in a fully vaccinated population,” he said.

Mr Barr said the lockdown had allowed hundreds of thousands of Canberrans to get vaccinated and saved tens of thousands from serious illness.

He also urged the 90,000 people who have had one dose to complete the process by getting a second jab when it was due.

Mr Barr urged people to be careful, follow the rules, and get tested as soon as possible if they have symptoms.

“We can do this altogether exactly the same way as we have managed the lockdown and the last 18 months as a community. We can look forward to much better times in the weeks and months ahead,” he said.

The ACT is still waiting on NSW to update its travel advice, but Victoria said it would downgrade the Territory from a red zone from midnight tonight.

That means Canberrans can get a permit at Service Victoria to enter Victoria but will have to isolate on arrival, get tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arriving and stay isolated until getting a negative result.

Since the lockdown commenced, there have been 1359 cases, 119 admitted to hospital and 24 to ICU, and seven deaths.

COVID testing sign

More than 3400 COVID tests were conducted in the ACT yesterday. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

UPDATED 11:10 am: The ACT has recorded 46 new cases of COVID-19 and one death, an 80-year-old resident at Calvary Haydon receiving end-of-life care.

Of the new cases, 30 are linked to known clusters and 22 are household contacts.

Eighteen cases were in quarantine during their whole infectious period, but 16 have been assessed as presenting a risk of transmission to others.

There are currently 492 active cases in the ACT.

As at 8 pm last night, there were 16 patients in ACT hospitals with COVID, including six in ICU. Five require ventilation.

More than 3,417 tests were conducted in the ACT yesterday.

NSW has recorded 406 cases and six deaths.

In NSW, 77.77 per cent of the 16-plus population is now double-vaxed.

Yesterday, NSW had 444 new cases and four deaths.

Victoria continues to grapple with rising infection rates. Today the state reported 2297 cases and 11 deaths – the first state to exceed 2000 daily infections.

The previous record was 1965 cases on 9 October.

Yesterday, Victoria reported 1571 cases and 13 deaths.

In Victoria, 61.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Calvary Haydon

The Calvary Haydon aged care village in Bruce. Six residents have now died of COVID-19. Photo: Screenshot.

9:35 am: Another resident of the Calvary Haydon aged care facility in Bruce has died of COVID-19 overnight, bringing the ACT’s death toll in the latest outbreak toll to seven.

The fully vaccinated resident had been receiving end-of-life care before being diagnosed with COVID-19 and is the sixth person to die in that cluster.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the source of the Calvary Haydon outbreak had now been traced to a resident, not a nurse.

“We understand now from the case investigation that the source of that outbreak was a resident, even though it was a staff member who was the first person to test positive,” Ms Stephen-Smith told ABC radio.

She said it had been hard for family and friends of residents in that facility, but there had not been any new cases in the facility for at least a week.

The death comes as the ACT goes into its last day of lockdown ahead of an expected surge in cases with the increased movement of people around the Territory.

Ms Stephen-Smith said health services were expecting case numbers to increase to anywhere up to 100 and beyond before levelling off and falling due to the ACT’s high vaccination rate.

She said the government and other jurisdictions were still calling on the Commonwealth to provide extra support for the health system as it comes under pressure, particularly if admissions from NSW surge.

But case numbers themselves are no longer of primary importance, and changes to contact tracing mean today is the last day low-risk casual contact exposure sites will be listed on the COVID-19 website.

Today, no close contact sites have been listed by ACT Health.

The casual contact exposure locations include a mix of supermarkets and bus routes, which are unlikely to be listed in future, along with some construction sites and a coffee shop.

Supermarkets include Woolworths at Woden, Gungahlin, Kambah and Kippax Fair in Holt; Coles in the Canberra Centre in the city, Chisholm and Kaleen; and the Friendly Grocer at Narrabundah.

The construction sites are Canberra Airport Group’s East Gateway Project and Block A of the Taylor Apartments in Taylor.

Bus routes 5 from Richardson to Woden Interchange and 78 from Chisholm Shops to Richardson are also listed.

The coffee shop is Lazzari Bros’ Espresso in Kambah.

Check the COVID-19 website for the exposure times and locations.

From tomorrow, Investigation Locations and Monitor for Symptoms sites will no longer be listed in the exposure locations table.

Only casual contact sites that have been assessed as presenting a high impact risk to the community will be listed and require action.

Specific low-impact risk sites and venues where the exposure has occurred via a confirmed case that is a customer or non-staff member will no longer be listed or require action.

The secondary contact type will no longer be used, but the website says people should maintain appropriate separation from any close contacts if possible, although no formal action or quarantine is required.

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