The ACT Government has announced significant changes to testing and isolation requirements and expanded capacity to accelerate the delivery of vaccination boosters in an effort to meet the expected surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks and months driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
From 11:50 pm Wednesday (5 January) three new categories of exposure will come into operation: high, medium and low, to focus on the highest risk of transmission rather than use the previous test, trace, isolate and quarantine method for all exposures, with the onus now placed on Canberrans to report their positive status to their household members, friends and workplaces, rather than rely on government reporting.
A high exposure category will apply to household contacts, those who have spent significant time with that person such as spending all day or staying overnight. Anyone who is a high exposure will need to get a PCR test and isolate for seven days with a rapid antigen test (RAT) on day six.
A medium exposure will be considered as spending some time with someone such as a dinner or a couple of hours at a bar. Anyone who is a medium exposure risk will need to do a RAT as soon as possible and again on day six.
A low exposure is likely to be brief such as being a distant connection or somewhere that a positive case has visited. Those in the low exposure category need to be vigilant for symptoms and get tested if symptoms arise.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr acknowledged the current shortage of rapid antigen tests and advised that anyone who needs a test can still get a free PCR test at the testing clinics.
“Those who need a test can get a test,” he said.
Mr Barr said working from home where possible, the use of masks indoors along with boosters remained the best way to reduce COVID-19 transmission and disease.
In response, the ACT Government will accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination program through expanded capacity at the AIS Arena and reopening the Canberra Airport vaccination hub from 24 January.
“We strongly encourage all Canberrans to get their boosters when they’re eligible. And if you’re a parent or carer of a child aged five to 11, book them in for their first dose,” Chief Minister Barr said.
“The ACT Government’s public health objectives remain the same – to reduce community transmission, minimise pressure on our hospitals and protect those most vulnerable.”
The airport hub and the AIS Arena mass vaccination clinic will be able to deliver up to 32,500 vaccinations a week.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the extra vaccination capacity was important given the changes to booster timeframes.
“The reduction in the interval between second dose and booster from five months to four months means almost 75,000 additional Canberrans are now eligible for their boosters.
“This number will increase even more when the interval is further reduced to three months on 31 January,” Minister Stephen-Smith said.
“Nearly 59,000 ACT residents aged 18 years or over have already received a third shot or booster and we have around 20,000 booster bookings at our ACT Government clinics and 9700 bookings for five to 11-year-olds.
“While this is a good start, we urge all Canberrans who are eligible for a booster to make a booking now.”
Bookings for the airport vaccination hub will open in the coming weeks but will only be for those aged 12 and over. Those aged five to 11-years -old can attend the AIS Arena clinic. Bookings at the AIS Arena clinic can be made by calling the vaccination booking line on 02 5124 7700 between 7 am and 7 pm daily or online using MyDHR for those aged 16 or over.
Vaccination bookings can also be made at participating GPs and pharmacies.
ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman also announced changes to the way hospitals manage COVID positive patients.
“Hospitals will now act as if all patients have COVID,” Dr Coleman said.
The new measures include a requirement for all staff to wear N95 masks and other approved PPE, for patients and approved visitors, surgical masks will be required where tolerated and curtains will be drawn across all wards.
Only COVID patients with respiratory symptoms will be admitted to a COVID ward. Others will be treated in the most appropriate ward for their condition.
From Monday the southern entrance to the Garran Surge centre will operate as a walk-in medical clinic to treat COVID positive patients with non-COVID related illness or injuries. The northern entrance will continue to operate as a testing facility.