27 September 2021

UPDATED: Vaccination key to Canberra re-opening for a COVID-normal Christmas

| Ian Bushnell and Genevieve Jacobs
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Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman at today’s COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

UPDATED 3 pm: The ACT Government is hopeful that the Territory can be COVID-normal by Christmas and is betting on its nation-leading vaccination rates to minimize the expected spike in cases during the gradual three-stage easing.

Lockdown itself will end on 15 October, when more significant changes kick in, including a return to offices where possible, followed by even greater freedoms and re-openings on 29 October.

School students other than Year 11 and 12 can start returning to school from 25 October.

Full details of the government’s path forward can be found on the COVID-19 website.

The ACT’s fully vaccinated population is now at 59 per cent and Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was time for the 50,000 still to get a first dose and the 150,000 who need a second dose to roll up their sleeves.

He said it was critical that the ACT reduces these numbers as close as possible to zero by 29 October.

He said there were still some outstanding supply issues but it was hoped these would be resolved over the next day or so in order that the ACT can accelerate its vaccination program to hit 90 per cent by the end of October.

“The expectation is the more vaccinated the population, the level of hospitalisations may decrease slightly as a percentage of the overall case numbers based on the protection the vaccine provides,” Mr Barr said.

He said the ACT could cope with hundreds of cases a day but thousands of cases would be problematic.

There was still extra capacity in intensive care but if needed the Garran Surge Centre could be stood up very quickly.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said work was continuing on forecasting and modelling so the health system had advance warning of the Surge Centre being needed.

Mr Barr said businesses should look to their peak industry bodies for advice on the reopening stages, as well as looking at the roadmap detail on the COVID website.

He said the significant changes start from 15 and 29 October and there would be plenty of time for Q&As and webinars ahead of the gradual reopening.

Compliance teams would also be guiding businesses on the new density and capacity rules as they come in.

But the ACT would not be going down the “administrative and enforcement nightmare” of excluding the unvaccinated, which NSW is pursuing.

“We are confident vaccination levels will be high enough to not go down that discriminatory path,” he said.

Mr Barr said the reopening of nature reserves might need some management particularly at sites such as Tidbinbilla.

The wearing of masks would no longer be required outside from 15 October but will still be needed indoors.

From Monday 25 October (week 4, term 4), preschool, kindergarten, and years 1, 2, 6, 9 and 10 can return to on campus learning, and attend their usual out of school hours care programs.

Children can also return to early childhood education and care services from 25 October.

From Monday 1 November (week 5, term 4), years 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 can return to on campus learning, and their usual out of school hours care programs.

Education Minister Yvette Berry said this phased return had the support of parents and staff.

“The health advice is that we can make the schools as safe as possible, making sure that we have good ventilation, keep up with the physical distancing, and making sure people are using good hand hygiene,” she said.

Masks would be compulsory for years 7 to 12 but optional for the earlier years.

The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations welcomed today’s announcement for the return to on-site learning in Term 4.

“Parents will be relieved to have a date for the return to school,” said Council President Alison Elliott. “We appreciate how far in advance the dates have been given, so that families have time to plan.”

Chief Minister Andrew Barr

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

12:30 pm: The ACT has recorded its first death in the current COVID-19 outbreak, a man in his nineties who had been receiving end of life care at Calvary Hayden’s aged care facility where an outbreak began several days ago.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr told today’s press briefing that the man had been “extremely unwell” prior to contracting COVID-19. This is the first death in the ACT’s current outbreak.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time,” Mr Barr said.

“It serves as a reminder to everyone, even in the circumstances of this individual, that COVID is real and it will take people from us at whatever stage of life. I’d like to use this opportunity to reinforce the importance of getting vaccinated between now and when the lockdown ends on 15 October.”

The ACT has recorded 19 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Of the new cases, 17 are linked to current or identified close contacts, while two are under early investigation. Seven people were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; at least eight spent part of their infectious period in the community.

Eight people are in hospital with COVID-19, three are in ICU and all require ventilation.

Yesterday, 3866 tests were conducted.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said the Calvary Hayden cluster now totals 14 cases including three staff, 10 residents and one household contact.

Two additional construction sites in Dickson have now been identified as exposure sites. They are 21-23 Challis St and 330 Northbourne Avenue. The cluster linked to the construction site at London Circuit now stands at 12 cases.

The Chief Minister announced a roadmap forward for easing restrictions, but warned that as this happens there could be hundreds of cases each week in Canberra although the protection offered by vaccines would reduce the virus’s effects.

“We can tolerate up to 20 patients in intensive care, factoring in that a quarter or more will be from NSW. We can surge beyond that, but not forever. We need the vaccines to play their part in reducing the number of people hospitalised,” Mr Barr said.

Some restrictions will ease very slightly from Friday including two people visiting another household at any one time and a doubling of time spent outside home to four hours, although gathering sizes remain at five people.

All non-essential retail will be able to operate click-and-collect services. Outdoor personal training, outdoor bootcamps and coaching can operate with two staff.

There will be more significant easing when lockdown ends on October 15, when the ACT is likely to reach the 80 per cent vaccination milestone ahead of the national average.

The transition to medium level public health measures will be triggered at 11:59 pm on Thursday 14 October. From October 15, five people can visit at home and 25 people can gather outdoors. Licensed venues, cafes and restaurants can open with 25 people across the venue or at a density one per square metre if less than 25 people. Alternatively venues can operate al fresco with a maximum of 50 patrons at a density of one per four square metres.

Hairdressers can recommence with five customers. Non-essential retail will continue to operate via click and collect or deliver, but the maximum number of staff on site will go to 10 people. Gyms can also re-open with strict COVID-safe measures and a maximum of 25 people.

The 25 person cap also applies to weddings, outdoor play, churches, outdoors auctions and community centres. Accommodation including caravan parks and campsites can re-open, as can swimming lessons with 25 people.

In late October, the ACT will gradually reduce the level of public health measures. Organised sport can recommence and swimming pools will re-open to the public on 29 October.

Ten people can visit any one time and 30 can meet outdoors. Ticketed and seated events will recommence with density and capacity limits. All retail in ACT will re-open with one person per four square metres including cinemas, galleries and museums, dance classes, choirs and bands, with a maximum of 20 people.

As the ACT’s vaccination rate continues above 90 per cent of the eligible population, further changes will be considered including easing density limits, household and outdoor gathering sizes.

Interstate and overseas travel requirements will also be considered, but Mr Barr said the ability to travel interstate and overseas would be entirely subject to border decisions made by other states and the Commonwealth Government.

Schools will make a safe return to face to face learning from Week Four of Term Four, when students in pre school, and Years K, 1, 2 and 6 will return Monday 25 October. Years 9 and 10 will also return at that time.

Early childhood care returns on 25 October. In the following Week Five from 1 November, all remaining students will return to face to face learning. Education Minister Yvette Berry said plans are unchanged for students in colleges. Year 12 students will start in Term Four as they prepare for their AST assessments and Year 11 students will be back in Week Three.

Mr Barr said the announcements would be “a welcome relief to all Canberrans”, made possible by the ACT’s high vaccination rates.

“However experience around the world shows that the virus will spread quickly once high public health measures are removed,” Mr Barr said.

“The ACT’s decisions had been informed by modelling on cases and hospitalisation and infection rates in surrounding NSW.

“The higher the level of vaccination, the lower the case numbers and serious illness, hospitalisation and intensive care and most importantly, the lower the number of deaths.

“That is why this has to be a gradual approach. It will be a challenge, but the pathway forward announced today ensures we will make a gradual steps towards a better Christmas and summer holidays for all.”

11:50 am: The ACT has recorded its first death in the current COVID-19 outbreak. A man in his nineties had been receiving end of life care at Calvary Hayden’s aged care facility.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the man had been “extremely unwell” prior to contracting COVID-19. This is the first death in the ACT’s current outbreak.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time,” Mr Barr said.

The ACT has recorded 19 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Yesterday the ACT recorded 25 cases after a record equalling high of 32 on Saturday.

Of the new cases, 17 are linked to current or identified close contacts and two are under early investigation.

Seven people were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; at least eight spent part of their infectious period in the community.

Eight people are in hospital with COVID-19, three are in ICU and all require ventilation.

Yesterday, 3866 tests were conducted.

NSW recorded 787 cases and 12 deaths. More than 85 per cent of eligible people in NSW have now had one dose of vaccine and 60 per cent are double-dosed.

Yesterday NSW had 961 new cases and nine deaths.

In Victoria, 705 cases were recorded and one death.

Yesterday there were 779 new cases and two deaths.

Nurse preparing COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine

Vaccination in the ACT is surging as the ACT Government weighs the path out of lockdown. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

8:52 am: The city construction site linked to nine COVID-19 cases has been added to the list of exposure locations for all of the last working week.

The city cluster comes as the ACT Government considers the ACT’s pathway out of the current lockdown with Chief Minister Andrew Barr due to announce any changes to public health measures and requirements tomorrow.

The ACT should also pass the 60 per cent mark for Canberrans aged 12 and over who have had two doses of vaccine.

Six workers from the fit-out site on Level 5 of 7 London Circuit have tested positive so far, as well as three household contacts.

The site has been listed as a close contact site from Monday to Friday of last week amid concerns the cluster may grow.

Joining it on the close contact list is the Calvary Haydon Retirement Community aged care centre in Bruce, including visitors to the Mary Potter and St Teresa Households from Sunday to Wednesday of last week.

That cluster remains at 12 cases, including three staff and nine residents.

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Bus routes, supermarkets, a pharmacy and coffee shop have been listed as casual contact sites.

Route 28 in Casey between Plimsoll Drive and Whitrod Avenue, and Casey Market Town to Plimsoll Drive from last Friday morning is listed.

The supermarkets include Coles at Manuka from last Friday between 11 am and noon, and Woolworths in Dickson from last Thursday between 3:40 pm and 4:30 pm, and Woolworths in Kambah from Wednesday between 7:20 am and 8:15 am.

The Cooleman Court Pharmacy in Weston is listed from last Thursday between 5:35 pm and 6:45 pm.

The coffee shop is the Mocca Espresso Lounge in the city from last Wednesday between 8 am and 9 am.

Check the COVID-19 website for the full details.

The latest on the ACT’s COVID-19 situation will be announced at 11:45 am.

More to come.

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“Mr Barr said the ability to travel interstate … would be entirely subject to border decisions made by other states”
Given some regional NSW areas do have exemptions, currently ACT residents can travel across to these regions but if allowed back into ACT have to isolate for 14 days.
Is there any indication the 14 day isolation will be changed.

Well had a quick look at this, a heap of possible dates and possible openings and possible closings ( if it goes backwards ).

Does it show when the pubs ‘n clubs open ?. ( A friend of mine inquired.)

We have never had these lockdowns for the seasonal flu which has the same death rate as covid, nor have we shutdown the fast food joints which have seen an long term increase in heart disease and cancer in society.

Correct death rate has not been the same as the flu. For one reason and one reason only and that is because we have restrictions and lockdowns.

Surprised me that people still peddle that dross. Well known and published fact that the death rate from covid is significantly higher than the flu when measured on infections. And the only reason there haven’t been more infections from covid is the restrictions.

Wrong, even with no restrictions the death toll from covid would still be less than the flu. That’s because people naturally take precautions. If there is airborne Ebola you wouldn’t stupidly go out to nightclubs to deliberately infect yourself. People are naturally more cautious with covid that if you remove restrictions and lockdowns it would barely make much of a difference. Also the factor you are ignoring is vaccinations. At this stage in the game a sufficient proportion of the population is fully vaccinated. For the flu this is less than 10%. So you can’t compare apples and oranges. Yes if you infected a group of 100 people with either virus then covid will kill more. Vaccinate the majority and let people take natural precautions and the death toll is far less than the flu.

Your comment about the risks of the flu vs COVID and restrictions is just plain silly.

Particularly when you consider how transmissible it is and that younger people are more likely to have only mild symptoms but could still pass it on to their families.

The data has clearly shown that the reduction in movement and social interaction caused by the restrictions has significantly lowered the level of transmission that has occurred.

Your point about vaccinations is closer to the mark but our vaccination rates need to be higher to dampen transmission to the level that is required to prevent wide scale outbreaks.

With respect, you appear to be poorly informed.
Flu typically kills the elderly or those with health conditions. It is also largely seasonal.
Covid ICU numbers, in themselves should tell you that Covid is serious. So should the worldwide death numbers, the large numbers of people in their twenties and thirties being infected and the fact that it’s NOT a seasonal thing.

Capital Retro2:51 pm 27 Sep 21

I would rather watch the Andrew Bolt show than watch the Andrew Barr one.

More facts and less spin.

That would depend on your political view.

Capital Retro3:51 pm 27 Sep 21

Facts have nothing to do with politics.

I wouldn’t suggest either of them are particularly focused on producing facts. But at least one is accountable to the general public….

Not going to disagree. Facts and politics don’t mix. Regardless I would still trust what comes out of Andrew Barr’s mouth over Bolt!

Capital Retro9:45 pm 27 Sep 21

I doubt if you and JC have ever watched/heard Bolt anyhow.

We can be thankful for the ACT Government’s measured approach. Others rushed in and have been forced to backtrack and dampen expectations (though that at least is promising as it shows newly acquired flexibility and that ‘the plan’ was not as rigid as some would have us believe).

Ha, that’s some mighty spin you’ve got going there.

What’s actually occurred is the ACT Government has been dragged into providing the detail that they always should have after being shown up by the state governments of NSW and Victoria.

But at least you do have to give them some credit for being able to copy the other student’s homework.

As usual chewy your spinning quite a bit too. The points whatwik made were entirely valid. It’s only spin because of your profuse dislike for Barr.

No spin here, just facts.

Whatwik claims that others have had to backtrack on their plans. Except none of the other state governments have done that, particularly not the two most relevant ones in NSW and VIC. They provided their citizens with more detail and are moving forward with those plans.

But you know who has changed their plan and rhetoric as of yesterday?

Andrew Barr and the ACT government.

Remember his repeated statements about needing to wait for the National Vaccination targets to be reached, “effective vaccination rates” and not being able to provide more detail on the plan because it was too subject to change.

All miraculously disappeared yesterday. Funny that.

Ha, try NSW regional travel. Disappointing yes, but prudent. Some of us do wonder about the obsession with the ACT Chief Minister. (Personally, he might be a bit too human-rightsy for me in some circumstances, and for others it must be very upsetting to have his superior communication skills on display every day.)

Ha is that all you’ve got?

Two days ago you were congratulating the ACT government for being super cautious in not providing dates, details and sticking to their different vaccination metrics.

Now that the ACT government has changed its mind on that, you’re supporting them for backflipping.

You must really enjoy gymnastics (but mainly of the mental kind).

Ah yes, thanks for the reminder. I also suspect the ACT Chief Minister might be the type who likes having the last word (but with far greater justification than some here.)

I’m sure the ALP is proud of your steadfast ability to change your mind to support whatever their position is daily.

Also ironic that you’re running this partisan line on the day that Victoria has overtaking NSW for daily case numbers, when a few weeks ago you were crowing about the ALP government’s superior lockdown settings, when compared to the horribly risky Liberal NSW gov.

It was lucky that other people explained how it was far more complex than simplistic partisan politics……..

They need to stop reporting case numbers and deaths especially now that the roadmap to reopening is laid out. They are a pointless metric designed to incite fear and meaningless given how few get tested. Not worth risking 14 days quarantine if you are fully vaccinated and covid is as mild as the flu.

Great show of compassion there for people that do die – are they just worthless to you, and its all okay because it is not you?

I agree there could be better measures then pure case numbers/deaths, but I still suggest we should not go down the ‘sweeping under the carpet’ route that others have in regards to deaths from COVID-19.

JS9, it’s not about “sweeping it under the carpet”. It’s about preventing the numbers from being blown out of proportion. About 136 Australians die each day from cancer yet the general population does not need this information. It would be hugely demoralising and people’s mental health need to be protected. Fine, record it on some government website if you like but it does not need to be plastered all over the news when this pandemic is ending all across the world.

Vaccines offer protection against severe infection and in most cases, death. It doesn’t prevent people contracting Covid, getting sick and passing it on to others.

The 80% plan acknowledges an increase in cases and deaths as we open up, before stabilising. It also acknowledges that localised lockdowns may still occur.

Daily case numbers help keep people informed about local risks.

Your reference to deaths by cancer is very unhelpful. Cancer is a significant killer in our society and most families at some stage have or will lose someone to it. I myself have cancer.

Mostly, cancer is not contagious and it’s not passed to others as an airborne disease.
Cancer, in some cases can be linked to lifestyle, in some cases genetic factors increase your risk, in other cases it’s nothing more than a malfunction in our DNA; in other words, freaking bad luck.
And yes, details about cancer deaths and advice about reducing your risk is publicly made available. Surely you have seen TV ads about alcohol and cancer, ads for Bowel Cancer screening and so on.

Why is a terminally ill patient, in his nineties and receiving end of life care counted as a covid death? This seems to be is another case of manipulating and inflating covid statistics to include those who died with covid, along with those who died from covid.
People who died with covid should not be counted as those who died from covid.
Lumping these statistics together makes it harder to understand the true impact of the virus and the true death rate. Consequently, authorities over-react and emergency measures are unnecessarily extended, impacting on all of us.
As discussed here: https://this.deakin.edu.au/society/counting-coronavirus-deaths

Twas always the way. I have seen an old death certificate where a long term medical condition was mentioned, but the cause of death was contributed to the flu. If not for the case of the flu, even with a long term medical condition, they would likely not have died that day. It was the flu that had them dying that day. Same with Covid.

It’s been standard practice through the pandemic. Rightly or wrongly.

And finally the ACT government has come to the party with beginning to provide the necessary detail of their reopening plan, that will give the community some more hope and ability to plan for the other side.

Still can’t work out why they couldn’t have done it weeks ago and there’s still more information needed, but at least it’s a massive improvement that brings them in to line with NSW and Victoria.

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