12 March 2020

Call for calm as ACT records first confirmed COVID-19 case

| Ian Bushnell
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COVID-19 announcement

Chief Minister Andrew Barr announces the ACT’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, backed by Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman and Canberra Health Services CEO Bernadette McDonald. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

ACT authorities have called for calm after a Canberra man aged in his 30s tested positive for COVID-19, the Territory’s first confirmed coronavirus case.

The man, who is ”well and stable”, presented at the Weston Walk-in Centre on Wednesday with symptoms of fever and fatigue. He subsequently tested positive for the virus.

He had been interstate in the previous two weeks, and travelling overseas before that but ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said he was likely to have been exposed to the virus somewhere in Australia.

He was not believed to be linked to the Defence employee who tested positive for the virus after flying to Canberra for a meeting.

There is now at least one case of COVID-19 in all states and territories in Australia. A total of 199 cases are confirmed in Australia while three deaths have been linked to COVID-19.

The ACT Health Directorate was now tracing the man’s contacts and gearing up for more cases in the coming weeks.

But Chief Minister Andrew Barr said there was no cause for alarm.

“The processes we have put in place in this instance were exactly as expected,” he said.

In the ACT, 442 people have been tested for the virus with just the one positive result, which came through on Thursday morning.

Dr Coleman said health advice for the community had not changed.

“We understand that there is a high level of anxiety in the community but now is the time for us to remain calm and come together as a community and support each other,” she said. “We are now part of the club.”

While at this stage there was no need to set up a dedicated testing centre, she expected that a Commonwealth-backed fever clinic will be established soon.

”We are working closely with the primary health network as well as the AMA to look at where we might be able to situate one of those clinics in the ACT,” she said. “It won’t be months, this will be well on top of us before then. We will monitor demand and see how quickly cases climb.”

Dr Coleman said Canberra Hospital, which is caring for the man, had been practising and preparing for this for weeks.

“Canberra Hospital staff will be taking all necessary precautions to ensure the ongoing safety of staff, patients and visitors to the campus,” she said. “Our hospital and health staff are very well prepared for this.”

Health officials were now in the process of tracing all of the Canberra man’s contacts.

“There are a small number of close contacts within his own social and work networks, and we will be working very hard today get in touch with every one of them to talk them through as to what they can expect over the next 14 days,” she said.

The man had remained isolated and there had been no general community exposures, Dr Coleman said. He was believed to be infectious for between 12 to 24 hours before falling ill.

“I still strongly believe there are two groups of people who are at most risk of being exposed to the virus: people travelling overseas and who have returned recently, and people who have come in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case,” Dr Coleman said.

Dr Coleman said the ACT was keeping an eye on South Australia’s drive-through testing program but would not be following suit yet.

But the Canberra Liberals are urging the ACT Government to do so, to avoid a situation where potential cases are held in waiting rooms with other patients for hours before they are attended to.

Health spokesperson Vicki Dunne said a drive-through testing station would allow dedicated health professionals to test potential cases in the quarantine of their private vehicle.

“The ACT Government should also implement a home visit program for potential [patients] that do not own a car, or otherwise face transport difficulties,” she said. “This would ensure potential cases in self-isolation still have access to health care.”

Mrs Dunne said the ACT Government should recruit retired GPs and nurses and use commercial medical agencies to staff the testing stations.

The Government was expecting more presentations at the recently expanded Weston Walk-in Centre where people are being directed for assessment, but the criteria remains and not everybody will be tested.

Reported incidents of abuse levelled at centre staff has prompted Mr Barr and Canberra Health Services CEO Bernadette McDonald to ask that people respect health staff who are working under considerable pressure.

“We have seen people who have been quite aggressive with our staff either due to waiting times or when they have been told they don’t fit criteria and so won’t have a specimen collected,” Ms McDonald said.

Mr Barr said there was no change in the current public events policy, meaning events such as Skyfire on Saturday, football games and the National Folk Folk Festival at Easter would proceed at this stage.

He also reassured Canberrans that there was no need to panic-buy goods such as toilet paper with manufacturers ramping up production and retailers imposing purchase limits.

The World Health Organisation has now declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

The Health Directorate is updating its COVID-19 advice daily at noon on its website. They reiterated that washing hands with soap and water remained the most effective personal hygiene strategy to avoid infection.

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HiddenDragon8:36 pm 17 Mar 20

As it (presumably) works on an economic response to the virus, the ACT Government should, rather than operating on the usual assumption that Canberrans (particularly ratepayers) have an infinite capacity to keep paying more and more (in real terms), follow the example of its WA colleagues –

https://www.facebook.com/MarkMcGowanMP/photos/a.432761316741748/3829019353782577 – ‘WA Household Fees and Charges Frozen’

In comments to the media today, Premier McGowan added to this by calling on local councils in WA to freeze rates for at least a year.

Capital Retro9:45 am 17 Mar 20

I attended a Woolworths supermarket at 7.00am this morning as a particpant in the “senior’s only hour”. It was a bit like the meat queues in Soviet Russia last century but meat was avaiable so I didn’t have to take cabbage as was the usual case in Russia. Overall it was well organised and orderly although it’s not wise to get between a motivated senior with a trolley and a packet of toilet paper. Given the enormity of this global problem I believe we will soon be on the ration card system which people alive in wartime will remember. In fact, it went on for several years in Great Britain after WW2 ended.

The only difference being that we don’t really have a shortage of supply that occurred during those war time periods, it’s mainly that people are hoarding products far in excess of their needs.

But those people are almost certainly not going to continue building ever greater piles of toilet paper in their house, so it will normalise in a couple of weeks when freezers and pantries are fully stocked to the above average levels that we’re seeing now.

Capital Retro5:23 pm 17 Mar 20

I agree that is what should happen but that depends on supply chains still operating. People have to load, drive and unload the trucks that supply Canberra and the businesses they work for may have to close like so many are already and this is just early days.

Those freight businesses would be classified as essential services and won’t close.

In fact, they’ll be working harder than ever.

Yes, there are some restrictions with importing goods, but the vast majority of produce is sourced locally and won’t be affected to a great degree unless this lasts for years.

Public transport does seem to be a very likely way for Coronavirus to spread.

It would be very disruptive but justifiable to shut down our public transport system.

What was that old slogan? “The plusses of busses” Well one “plus” may be a case of Coronavirus.

Or perhaps we need a suitable slogan for the light rail.

“Coronavirus, the fail of the light rail”

Or pull out the old bike, as they are doing in NY and some other places.

Capital Retro11:20 am 17 Mar 20

Old bikes are next to useless where the topography is hilly, eg the Tuggeranong Valley.
New York city is flat.

The light rail is the perfect delivery mechanism for people to spread the virus. 200+ people squeezed together for 25 minutes in peak hour. Ewww.

No, planes are the perfect delivery mechanism for people to spread the virus. That’s the evidence so far. Light rail is no different to ferries or buses or heavy rail. So don’t worry too much and take normal precautions (like wearing gloves when you are touching surfaces).

Not all of Canberra is hilly (ie, it isn’t all Tuggeranong Valley), and even in those areas that are, not everyone is incapable of riding. They would lesson the crowding then on public transport for those that can’t ride.
Many old bikes are actually very good bikes; just haven’t been ridden for awhile.

Capital Retro10:38 am 18 Mar 20

I’ll go one better, wear BOXING gloves.

The light rail is different than other public transport modes because it is deliberately designed to carry more people in a far closer proximity than other modes.

In peak hour, most passengers are standing very close to each other.

Honestly, the main reason you’ve been attempting to rely on to claim the light rail is great is why it’s so bad in these circumstances.

The government has even advised to avoid peak hour travel on it for that very reason. No matter the facts , you can’t hear a bad word about your precious light rail, can you.

I know social media site users are unfamiliar with books, especially books that are not trashy airport novels, but I can recommend ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds’ by Charles Maclay in 1841.

Pixel Perfection8:24 am 15 Mar 20

Our low-density suburbs and tendency to use cars rather than public transport will stand us in good stead through this.

Capital Retro11:29 am 17 Mar 20

We are blessed in Canberra because it was planned to be like it was (up until 20 years ago). The experts in charge of the pandemic are all centralized in the big cities and not one of them appears to have mentioned this probably because most of them live in boxes and use public transport so they are unaware of the Nirvana Canberra is.

This is not good for the ACT (just my opinion).

Capital Retro10:01 pm 12 Mar 20

Not even the bubble can stop the virus.

There is research that proactive closure of schools is more effective than reactive (see https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/does-closing-schools-slow-spread-novel-coronavirus). Is everyone’s health the number one priority.

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