UPDATED: Steady as she goes as Barr sticks to a cautious, non-committal course

Ian Bushnell 20 September 2021 15
Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said Victoria’s road map out of lockdown was only indicative and a best guess about its vaccination projections. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

UPDATED 3:00 pm: Chief Minister Andrew Barr isn’t for turning on the government’s cautious approach to its pathway out of lockdown, eschewing the kinds of heavily conditioned milestones used by Victoria yesterday in its COVID-19 roadmap.

Even Labor Senator Katy Gallagher, whose daughter and partner contracted the virus, has said the community would benefit from more information and detail from the government.

The closest Mr Barr came to offering more than a general guide to the easing of restrictions according to the levels of vaccination in the community was saying that the ACT’s pathway would reflect that of Victoria, without as yet the specific references to when certain sectors such as retail, hospitality and recreation could reopen.

Like Victoria, he said the first moves would be outdoors, and there would be density limits and caps on numbers.

But Mr Barr said Victoria’s road map was only indicative and a best guess about its vaccination projections.

He said there would be more detail at the lockdown midpoint next week and then two weeks later towards the end of the extended lockdown.

What he could guarantee is that there will not be any overnight announcements and that people and businesses would get sufficient notice to plan for any changes.

Mr Barr said the next few weeks would be crucial.

“Canberrans can expect the next iteration of our restriction easing will contain specific detail, but the details that are most relevant are what is about to happen in the next immediate period,” he said.

“It’s very difficult on this stage to speculate about what November is going to look like. But we will be in a much better position to outline what October will look like in a week or so.”

Mr Barr said he would not like to provide a misleading set of guidelines and that even at 80 per cent vaccination, the latest modelling suggests cases, hospital admissions and deaths could spike.

He said the government was being cautious with its eyes on Christmas and the school holidays.

“Decisions over the next four to six weeks will determine what the summer will look like,” he said.

“It would be really unfortunate if the Christmas gift to the nation is the highest ever level of cases across Australia, the highest ever hospital admissions, the highest ever number of people in intensive care, and the highest ever level of deaths in the community.”

Mr Barr also lamented the latest disruption to Pfizer supply, amounting to 30,000 doses that could provide the ACT’s 12 to 15-year-olds with their first dose and half of them with their second.

While the ACT has not suffered an actual reduction in vaccines from September to October, it appears it will not be receiving the extra supply for mass vaccination hubs as had been promised.

“Thirty-thousand [doses] over a month is a big number,” Mr Barr said. “There are states in the middle of outbreaks that have been supported and I’d like to see the same applied to the ACT. I don’t think we have done anything wrong to be treated differently.”

Mr Barr said it was important for the ACT to abide by the National Plan and wait for the national average to reach the 70 and 80 per cent vaccination thresholds due to the Territory’s relationship with NSW and the benefits of having a nationally consistent framework.

He said the difference between when the ACT reached its vaccination targets and when NSW and Victoria hit theirs came down to a matter of days.

“What’s particularly important for us is what’s happening in regional NSW, in Sydney and Victoria,” Mr Barr said.

He said the national average relied mainly on what happens in NSW and Victoria, and to a lesser extent Queensland, not the less populous states such as WA or SA.

Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at today’s COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

12:30 pm: There are seven new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT, all linked to existing cases. Only two were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period, while at least four spent part of their infectious time in the community. Five people are hospitalised, with one in intensive care.

“Today’s case numbers are positive, but as on Friday when we reported 30 cases, it’s too early to know if it’s just a one-off,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said at today’s COVID briefing.

“It has been clear over the last five weeks that daily case numbers have fluctuated.”

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said the outbreak now totals 625, with 224 active cases. There are over 300 active exposure locations but no new additional public transmission sites and none of the new cases are linked to public sites.

Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said that ADF personnel are undergoing training this week and are expected to assist ACT Policing with border checks by Thursday or Friday. They will assist with marshalling and compliance checks, general conversations and assistance with understanding health directions. Police will retain responsibility for stopping vehicles and following up potential breaches.

Around 7400 traffic stops have been conducted since last Thursday and these will continue. The Chief Police Officer warned that complacency is beginning to creep in as the lockdown goes on. Over the weekend, around 250 vehicles were turned away from reserves, including Uriarra and the Cotter, despite ample signage advising motorists they remain closed.

“Our members are seeing some people behaving totally inappropriately. I thank them for their continued professionalism at this time,” he said.

The Chief Minister warned that the NSW and Victorian health systems could expect extreme pressure as restrictions begin to ease. That would very likely have consequences for the ACT as the only tertiary health provider in the South East.

“I’m not sure people have really got their heads around what that means if they’re alarmed at around 1500 cases per day in NSW,” he said.

“The NSW Premier and Victorian Premier have been very clear that demands on their health system could be unlike anything Australia has ever seen.

“Extreme pressure is coming to the NSW and Victoria health systems … it would be naive to think the ACT system won’t come under pressure.”

Mr Barr said the ACT continues to engage productively with the Commonwealth over our Pfizer supply. While the September allocation of Pfizer will not be reduced, as had been indicated in National Cabinet papers, there now won’t be an increase in the ACT’s supply between September and October-November.

The vaccine increase will go instead to primary care providers, including Pfizer to GPs and Moderna to pharmacies. Mr Barr said that as bookings open for the 12 to 15-year-old cohort, primary care providers might be the fastest route to vaccination.

“We are in a strong position to provide additional appointments at the AIS if – if – we have more supply. We will continue to work with the Commonwealth. We are optimistic this can be positively resolved,” Mr Barr said.

“During their outbreaks, both NSW and Victoria received increased supplies. It is our view the ACT should not be treated differently.”

From today, parents can book 12 to 15-year-olds for Pfizer vaccine through ACT Government clinics. Today the ACT passes the 80 per cent first dose milestone for the 12-plus population, and 55 per cent of the population have now received two doses of vaccine.

But Mr Barr said that 50,000 people are still waiting for their first dose through ACT Government clinics.

Decisions on restrictions will be guided by the best and most up to date health advice. Mr Barr said modelling and advice from the Doherty Institute, Burnett Institute and NSW Health have created a much clearer picture of the significant risk associated with moving too fast at 70 per cent vaccination rates.

Before re-opening, the ACT will consider community and business compliance levels, the most up to date data on effective reproduction rates, and the transmission potential in the community.

The path out will resemble last year’s easing but will include working from home for some time to come and phased returns to face to face learning. Mr Barr said further details would be advised in advance of each phase.

11:55 am: The ACT has recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm last night.

Yesterday the ACT recorded 17 new cases.

All cases have been linked, but only two were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period. Four spent part of their time in the community and one remains under investigation.

Five people are in hospital with COVID and two are in ICU.

In the ACT, 2646 tests were conducted yesterday, which Chief Minister Andrew Barr said was broadly in line with weekend testing numbers.

On the compliance front, 380 traffic stops and 59 business compliance checks were conducted, and Mr Barr reported “excellent compliance”.

NSW has recorded 935 cases and four deaths. Yesterday, NSW recorded 1083 cases and 13 deaths.

Victoria recorded 567 new cases and one death. Yesterday, Victoria recorded 507 cases and one death.

ACT mass vaccination hub

Bookings open today for 12 to 15-year-olds at ACT mass vaccination hubs like the AIS clinic. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

9:15 am: The ACT Government will come under increasing pressure today to provide more specific milestones for its path out of the COVID-19 lockdown after Victoria released its roadmap yesterday.

The heavily caveated roadmap is tied to vaccination targets of 70 per cent, expected around 26 October, and 80 per cent vaccination, expected around 5 November.

It is conditional on health advice and includes projections of increases in cases, admissions to hospital and even deaths, but does provide for return to work, school and a gradual reopening of retail and hospitality, albeit for vaccinated people and subject to crowd and density limits, and eventually travel.

The ACT Government has so far declined to set detailed milestones, preferring to keep its options open depending on case numbers and vaccination rates, but will review the situation at the midpoint of the lockdown extension on 1 October.

It is committed to the National Plan which links the easing of restrictions to the vaccination thresholds and the national average rates.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has urged the government to follow Victoria’s example and provide more detail about its plans to the community and business.

“Most Canberrans understand that a plan or roadmap would be influenced by case numbers and vaccination rates and that any plan put in place may need to be adjusted,” she said.

“However, to have no plan at all as to how Canberra will safely transition out of lockdown is mind-boggling.

“What is most stark about the Victoria roadmap is that when the state reaches 70 per cent vaccination, they will have far more freedoms than the ACT currently has and is anticipated to have for almost another four weeks, despite our nation-leading vaccination rates.”

But Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith insisted yesterday that the ACT would chart its own path out of lockdown.

Bookings open today at the ACT’s mass vaccination hubs for 12 to 15-year-olds. People should consider checking with GPs and pharmacies to secure a Pfizer or Moderna vaccination for children aged 12 to 15.

Exposure sites this morning are limited to casual contacts, a positive sign according to Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman, but they do include a Commonwealth building – Services Australia in Greenway.

Areas listed are Level 3 in the North Wing from last Wednesday between 8:20 am and 5:00 pm, Tuesday between 8:30 am and 1:30 pm, and the Calypso Cafe on Wednesday from 12:20 pm to 1:10 pm.

The ALDI supermarket at Conder is listed twice – last Tuesday between 3:35 pm and 4:40 pm, and on 4 September from 8:25 am to 9:30 am.

The Woolworths supermarket at Conder’s Lanyon Marketplace is also listed from 9 September between 2:30 pm and 3:20 pm.

Other sites include Pacifik Halal Meats in Gungahlin from 10 September between 5:05 pm and 6:15 pm, Coyote Catering and Cafe in Fyshwick on 9 September from 8:00 am to 10:30 am, and ACT Endodontics in Forrest on 8 September from 10:00 am to 11:10 am.


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15 Responses to UPDATED: Steady as she goes as Barr sticks to a cautious, non-committal course
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MERC600 MERC600 10:31 am 21 Sep 21

Mr Barr ““It would be really unfortunate if the Christmas gift to the nation is the highest ever level of cases across Australia, the highest ever hospital admissions, the highest ever number of people in intensive care, and the highest ever level of deaths in the community.”
So apparently scratch Xmas.
We need to wait on word regarding Easter.

Oscar Mike Oscar Mike 7:53 pm 20 Sep 21

I just don’t trust Pfizer this is due to their decades long history of fraud and corruption and the fines to show it.

    phydeaux phydeaux 3:49 pm 21 Sep 21

    Oscar Mike you do realise that Pfizer did not invent the mRNA vaccine they sell, don’t you? And did they also corrupt Moderna who devised their own? Novavax (another vaccine type) too? Astra Zeneca? Janssen? All of Russia, Taiwan, France, China, probably others I do not know?
    I might say you are selective with facts, if any relevant facts were first presented.

Dilkera Dilkera 5:21 pm 20 Sep 21

In commenting about students returning to school, it is important to remember there will be a cohort of 0 to 11 year old children, who will not be vaccinated and therefore highly vulnerable. Note in VIC plan for child care all carers and both parents of a child attending must be fully vaccinated. Please consider for ACT as Delta does not discriminate and reassuring words to not alarm parents are no protection.

    chewy14 chewy14 5:49 pm 20 Sep 21

    The reason why those plans are pushing for Vaccination of parents and teachers is not to protect the children, it’s to protect the parents from the children spreading COVID to them.

    The research is clear that children are at significantly lower risk levels than adults from serious disease. Even the AMA come out clearly and backed this again on the weekend with regards to the reopening plans.

    Children under 12 not being vaccinated is a risk but not to themselves, it’s the risk of them spreading COVID to other, more susceptible groups.

    https://www.smh.com.au/national/federal-ama-backs-reopening-plan-no-need-to-vaccinate-kids-first-20210917-p58snh.html

Feedback Feedback 2:49 pm 20 Sep 21

The article mentions that ‘The path out will resemble last year’s easing but will include working from home for some time to come and phased returns to face to face learning’

What happened last year, due to an ill thought out plan (closing schools for a whole Term 2, even to essential workers and opening up hub sites) was that only 1 plan was thought out, which was then changed at the last minute (those hub sites closed in week 2 of Term 2). And, as a consequence of no contingency planning some school years were still doing on-line learning up until the end of week 6, with no cases in the community.

No plan; leaving things till the last minute; or waiting for the one non changing solution will lead to the same waste of resources and time as well as continuing restrictions unnecessarily for little benefit.

On top of this, the ACT easing of restrictions is being based on National Thresholds, not ACT vaccination rates being met. There is still no justifications as to why the ACT cannot ease restrictions when it meets ACT rates, as both NSW and Vic are.

The ACT should allow children to go back to school based on ACT Vaccination thresholds and not wait for National Vaccination thresholds as well as have a clear detailed plan for doing so before the start of Term 4.

A petition has been started.

https://www.change.org/p/act-government-the-act-should-allow-children-to-go-back-to-school-based-on-act-vaccination-thresholds

whatwik whatwik 1:32 pm 20 Sep 21

With the school holidays upon us, spare a thought for children and parents (and grandparents!) in Cowra, which was among areas removed from stay at home restrictions on Friday, only to be returned to stay at home from today after a 9 year old tested Covid positive.

chewy14 chewy14 9:23 am 20 Sep 21

“It is committed to the National Plan which links the easing of restrictions to the vaccination thresholds, and the national average rates.”

Can we please now do away with the fig leaf that the ACT government is following the National Plan?

They are not remotely following the plan, with changed vaccination metrics and overall vaccination triggers along with other caveats that Andrew Barr keeps introducing.

They have created their own plan that is significantly more risk averse than the National Plan and their pathway to reopening is far less detailed than what NSW or Victoria have released.

Despite the softball “journalism” the ACT government get here, there are serious legitimate questions that should be strongly asked of what evidence the ACT government is basing their decisions on. Because it’s clearly not a balanced approach.

    kenbehrens kenbehrens 7:36 pm 20 Sep 21

    Although the ACT’s exit plans have not been fleshed out, that doesn’t mean the plan won’t be consistent with the National Plan, which of course speaks of vaccination rates across all of Australia.

    Every jurisdiction has a slightly different slant on their plans. Qld & WA in particular, are a lot more protectionist, Victoria requires carers and parents of school kids to be vaccinated.

    Locally, we have a good vacc rate which is a great start, but cops are turning away cars at the border daily and recently the Chief told us that in a Covid compliance check, 8 out of 10 weren’t compliant and how 4 commercial construction sites had been closed down for serious breaches.

    I didn’t vote for Barr, but I think he’s on the right track.

    whatwik whatwik 7:57 pm 20 Sep 21

    And you are not the only one – the Riotact’s poll is currently giving him 70% support.

    chewy14 chewy14 10:40 pm 20 Sep 21

    RiotACT (typically left leaning) poll so far around 500 people.

    And you think this means what exactly? Bahahahaha.

    No seriously. Bahahahahaha.

    whatwik whatwik 8:31 am 21 Sep 21

    Think of it as indicative only, with caveats, and not in any way specific. It’s going to be a long school holidays for some.

    chewy14 chewy14 9:56 pm 20 Sep 21

    Kenbehrens,
    Barr’s statements and documented roadmap are fundamentally at odds with the National Plan.

    The Vaccination targets were modelled on the 16+ population, not Barr’s now changed metric of 12+. If you change to 12+, the targets should be lowered to reflect an equivalent population.

    There is no inclusion of an “effective vaccinated” rate in the National Plan as Barr has used to excuse a further 2-3 week delay to beginning the reopening targets, which is really just a reverse engineered excuse for his inherent risk averse nature.

    At 70% the National Plan calls for Vaccinated people to be given more freedoms. Barr has rejected this.

    And the entire point of not opening up until the overall national targets were hit was to prevent people moving from highly vaccinated areas spreading COVID into lower Vax areas. But seeing as all the borders of those lower Vaxxed areas are hard shut for the foreseeable future, the requirement is redundant.

    So no it isn’t consistent with the National Plan, despite his claims around it.

    As you’ve pointed out other states are also not following the plan. WA and QLD to a greater degree, NSW and VIC to a lesser degree.

    But none of that excuses Barr for deliberately lying around claims he is still following the plan.

    JC JC 2:05 pm 21 Sep 21

    Think yet again the issue Chewy is your interpretation of certain documents. You seem to place more weight your interpretation of the national plan over the ACT plan.

    You talk about more freedoms at 70% of over 16’s. If you actually took time to read the national plan, in an ACT context we are already operating at that. Many of the 70% targets are around international arrivals, but 70% still includes localised lock downs etc. In an ACT context a local lock down is in reality the whole of the ACT. We are too geographically small to do otherwise.

    80% is where lockdowns are MINIMISED.

    chewy14 chewy14 4:30 pm 21 Sep 21

    JC,
    Conveniently you ignore the main points made again. Because it isn’t my “interpretation” of the plan, it’s the literal definition of the words written in them.

    “You talk about more freedoms at 70% of over 16’s. If you actually took time to read the national plan, in an ACT context we are already operating at that.”

    So you think that the ACT is not following the National Plan by being too lax on restrictions in phase A? LOL.

    What I actually said is that the National Plan calls for less restrictions on the fully vaccinated at 70%. Barr has outright rejected doing this in any form.

    “but 70% still includes localised lock downs etc. In an ACT context a local lock down is in reality the whole of the ACT”

    Can you point out one statement where I’ve suggested this isn’t case? Phase B suggests ongoing lower restrictions with lockdowns less likely but possible. Now this is clearly open to interpretation and I haven’t focused on what it actually means.

    The main issues are clearly that the ACT Government has redefined the vaccination metrics to suit a predetermined position of extreme risk aversion when reopening to the almost full exclusion of any other societal issue than COVID.

    Now you can support that position if you want, but what you can’t do is lie that it is following the steps and metrics outlined in the National Plan. It clearly isn’t.

    As said elsewhere, WA and QLD to a greater degree and NSW and Vic to a lesser degree are also not following the plan, going their own way.

    But let’s at least be honest about it rather than the daily spin that Barr has been delivering. If you disagree address the actual points made about the metrics in my comments.

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