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.