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.
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.
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.