UPDATED 2:30 pm: ACT Health has confirmed a total of 31 COVID-19 cases are now linked to the growing cluster at the Wanniassa School.
One new case has also been recorded at the small Boddington offsite campus of Namadgi School, although Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said she could not provide any further information about this case when she fronted the media this afternoon.
She was unaware of how the individual had acquired the case and said contact tracing was underway.
She also expects case numbers to go up in the next few days and the Wanniassa cluster to continue to grow after high testing turnout in recent days, and more people are likely to come forward for testing.
Wanniassa School – Junior Campus remains the only school closed in the ACT, she said, and ACT Health will make an assessment over the weekend as to reopening next week.
“The size of this cluster has given us some pause,” she said.
Authorities remain unsure why this particular school has experienced more transmission than others, Ms Stephen-Smith said today, but she did not think an inability on behalf of the school to separate cohorts of students had anything to do with it.
Any number of reasons could have contributed to the virus being identified in different school years, including siblings and students undertaking extracurricular activities, she said.
Ms Stephen-Smith was also unable to provide an update on how many close and casual contacts this particular cluster had now garnered. On Wednesday (3 November), Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said upwards of 120 people were required to quarantine.
Across the entire Territory, 919 people are in quarantine due to being a contact of a confirmed case or a confirmed case themselves. Another new casual contact exposure site has been listed – Aquatic Achievers in Calwell on Monday, 1 November between 5 pm and 5:30 pm.
When asked why a vaccination clinic had been set up on-site at the Wanniassa School – Junior Campus, Ms Stephen-Smith said she was aware this is an area in Canberra where vaccination rates are lower than the Territory-wide average.
“We’re also aware of some people in that community who don’t necessarily engage in mainstream healthcare so we wanted to give everyone ample opportunity to come forward and get vaccinated,” she explained.
She noted the recent run of low cases may not last given the return of international travel as well as greater freedom of movement between NSW and Victoria with that particular border set to open at 11:59 pm tonight.
The ACT has also been declared a green zone by Victoria, making it easier for people to travel between the two states.
With National Cabinet set to meet this afternoon, Chief Minister Andrew Barr expects to engage in discussions around the provision of vaccines to children aged under 12, as well as raise concerns about the Commonwealth modelling for the capacity of Canberra’s hospitals to cope with COVID-19 cases given it does not take into account the role of the ACT as the only major tertiary hospital in the region.
Mr Barr said he was also concerned that the modelling did not consider an adjusted population projection for the area.
Ms Stephen-Smith said this was a common issue when the Commonwealth considers the ACT as an isolated jurisdiction.
“We have the only trauma tertiary hospital between Sydney and Melbourne. In some parts of the hospital system, between 25 and 30 per cent of the patients being seen come from interstate,” she said.
The ACT’s modelling did take this into account.
Ms Stephen-Smith said she hoped further hospital funding commitments from the Commonwealth would come from this afternoon’s meeting.
While the ACT welcomed Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s announcement for a package to support GPs to help COVID-patients at home, what is really required is a bigger commitment to supporting the hospital system.
“That’s very welcome, but that needs to be part of a broader, integrated response that includes the hospital system,” she said.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen from Scotty from marketing is that it’s often all about the announcement and not about the substance.”
Ms Stephen-Smith said it’s not only Labor and Liberal leaders calling on the Federal Government for a 50/50 funding commitment, but also major stakeholders across the country and she hoped the Commonwealth would see it as a “serious problem” and act accordingly.
UPDATED 11:10 am: The ACT has recorded six new COVID cases in the 24 hours to 8 pm last night and one death, a man in his 40s being treated in ICU.
Yesterday there were 13 cases. In total, there are 125 active cases in the Territory.
There are three people in ACT hospitals with COVID, including one in intensive care and one requiring ventilation.
Of the ACT’s 12-plus population, 94.4 per cent are fully vaccinated.
NSW recorded 249 new cases and three deaths.
There are 285 people in hospital, including 61 in ICU.
Yesterday there were 308 cases.
NSW Health reports 89.1 per cent of people aged 16-plus have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Victoria recorded 1343 new local cases and 10 deaths
There are 634 people in hospital, including 109 in intensive care.
Around 82 per cent of Victoria’s 12-plus population has been fully vaccinated.
10 am: The cluster of COVID-19 cases related to the Wanniassa School is today expected to grow after on-site testing was conducted yesterday (4 November) at the Junior Campus.
Meanwhile, an inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic response has revealed 52 staff across the Education Directorate affected by the mandate are unvaccinated or unable to provide their vaccination status. They are either on leave or engaging in alternate work arrangements.
Twenty-six COVID-19 cases have already been linked to the cluster at the school after positive cases attended campus across six days.
These cases are both students and household contacts.
Today, a pop-up vaccination clinic will be on-site between 9 am and 4 pm to administer Pfizer vaccines to anyone aged 12 and over in the region.
Since the gradual return to school on Monday, 25 October, a number of schools have been impacted by the virus after positive cases attended the campuses of Ainslie School, St Anthony’s Parish Primary School, Gordon School, and the senior and junior campuses of Wanniassa School.
Only the junior campus of Wanniassa School remains closed.
On Wednesday, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman acknowledged the difficulty of coping with school outbreaks.
She said the experience of interstate jurisdictions had helped inform the ACT’s response and it would continue to be refined moving forward.
Education Directorate staff revealed yesterday that 28 ACT teachers, 22 staff members (non-teachers) and two school leaders have not been able to provide proof of their vaccination in line with the mandate.
Four of these people are on leave and 48 have taken up alternate working arrangements. Ultimately, officials said these people would need to be redeployed.
The directorate said 98.6 per cent of all affected staff are compliant with the vaccine mandate.
Previously, the Minister for Education Yvette Berry and Education Directorate spokespeople have cited privacy concerns as the reasoning behind not releasing this information.
All early childhood, primary and specialist school staff were required to have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Monday, 1 November, with a second required by 29 November.
It’s public knowledge that 47 frontline healthcare workers in the ACT refused the vaccine and were redeployed because of this.
New casual exposure sites were added overnight to the government’s COVID-19 website.
Vikings Erindale (Lotus Lounge only) is a venue of concern for Sunday, 31 October, between 5:05 pm and 6 pm and Tuesday, 2 November, between 2:35 pm and 4:05 pm.
The Aquatots Swim Centre (Baby Pool only) in Forde is also a casual contact exposure site on Sunday, 31 October, between 2 pm and 2:30 pm.
See the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website for more details and instructions to follow as a casual contact.
There are now 20 active exposure sites.
More to come.