19 September 2021

UPDATED: ACT to reduce focus on people infectious in community due to prevalence of low-risk cases

| Dominic Giannini and Genevieve Jacobs
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Dr Kerryn Coleman

Dr Kerryn Coleman. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The ACT will start moving away from emphasising the number of people who have been in the community while infectious as vaccination rates continue to rise.

The proportion of people who have been infectious in the community has plateaued, but more than half of the ACT’s 125 cases in the past week were in the community for at least part of their infectious period.

More than 50 per cent of people above the age of 12 are fully vaccinated in the ACT, and three in four people have had at least one dose.

After more than five weeks in lockdown, health authorities now have the data to be able to confidently classify cases who were in the community as low risk, which means there would not be a need to list some locations as exposure sites, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said.

“As we move forward, what will become more relevant is what of these [cases] are low risk and what of these are high-risk opportunities, and we really have not done that yet,” she said.

“We are really now getting comfortable with our lower risk classification. We have got to a stage now where we can be confident saying, for these people and these cases, they are low risk because these are the activities and the precautions they have taken.

“For example, we are now reasonably confident that essential workers in certain settings, wearing a mask all the time, can be classified as low risk, so therefore, there may come a phase in the future where we will not classify that site as a potential exposure site.”

While concern remains on the number of asymptomatic cases in the community who may infect others unwittingly, Dr Coleman said fully vaccinated people and those who were asymptomatic were less likely to transmit the virus.

This is due to the reduced viral load associated with asymptomatic cases and the absence of transmission risks like sneezing and coughing.

Dr Coleman confirmed that there are currently seven active public sites of transmission.

“That is a transmission we are looking to make as we progress through. It is also really important for us to understand where the spread or transmission is occurring so we can focus efforts on reducing that,” she said.

“It may be challenging … to get to zero [people infectious in the community]. The aim is that we will not need to do that when we get to the higher levels of vaccination coverage.”

Dr Coleman could not pinpoint a level of vaccination coverage that would enable health authorities to feel confident enough to reduce their focus on the number of infectious people in the community.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said vaccination rates needed to be considered alongside the Territory’s capacity to test, trace, isolate and quarantine cases (TTIQ) once restrictions begin to ease.

“One of the things that is really clear in the Doherty modelling is you need to consider your vaccination rate alongside your capacity to maintain TTIQ measures and then look at what public health and social measures you need to put in place to balance all of that to maintain a manageable level of case numbers so you do not overwhelm your health system,” she explained.

“The more cases we have and the more people who are potentially infectious in the community, the more pressure you then put on your contact tracing team and your case investigation team.”

The next lockdown checkpoint will be on 1 October, halfway through the one-month extension that is due to end of 15 October.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith delivering this morning’s COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

UPDATED 12:30 pm: There are 17 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT overnight, 11 of which are linked to known cases, including 10 household contacts.

Five cases were in quarantine, but 12 spent some of their infectious period in the community. Two patients are in intensive care and eight are hospitalised.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman told today’s press briefing that the outbreak now totals 618 with 242 active cases. Exposure locations are expected to increase sharply this afternoon and this evening following the higher numbers in recent days.

But Dr Coleman said that there are no new active sites of transmission, and none of the new cases are linked to existing sites, an emerging trend. There are now seven active public transmission sites and the significant majority of new cases are household contacts.

“I think as we identify exposure sites, the more we’re seeing casual and not close contact sites,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“The less transmission we see at public sites is obviously a good thing, but we have a lot of people in the community still moving around doing essential work. The nature of Delta is that some people will have gone to work while unknowingly infectious.

“What we see with cases continuing to plateau and not trending upwards is a positive sign for us, but we’ll continue to see cases because that’s the nature of the Delta variant”.

In the ACT, 2992 tests were carried out yesterday.

Ms Stephen-Smith said this was not a bad result for a Saturday when testing tends to drop off, but people must continue to come forward as close or casual contacts, or if any symptoms present, including fever, coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, and a runny or blocked nose.

Yesterday, 82 traffic stops were carried out and there were two directions to leave the territory. There were compliance checks on 29 businesses.

Ms Stephen-Smith said that while recent compliance breaches on residential construction sites were “extraordinarily disappointing”, the government was comfortable with the decision to re-open the sector. Some sites, particularly those associated with peak bodies, had excellent advice and strong COVID-safe plans in place.

She added that transmission had not necessarily taken place on building sites, but all forms of essential work posed some risk. Visitors to the site could be a risk and as Victoria had identified, workers often travel considerable distances risking geographic spread.

Vaccinations for 12 to 15-year-olds open tomorrow at the ACT’s mass vaccination clinics. There are around 25,000 people in this cohort in the ACT. The next appointments at government clinics are not available until mid-October so the fastest booking may be through a GP or pharmacy, which will soon have Moderna vaccines.

From tomorrow (20 September), the daily reporting will show the percentage of people 12 and over who are vaccinated rather than the 16-plus population so vaccination rates will temporarily drop a little as a result.

Ms Stephen-Smith also highlighted ongoing restrictions at health care facilities, where nobody is permitted to enter without an exemption. These are granted where patients are critically ill, at end of life, for birthing or paediatric care, or because a patient requires significant care because of a disability or special needs.

COVID-safe measures are in place for all permitted visitors and Ms Stephen-Smith said hospital staff understood the need for social connection and were working to ensure that wherever possible.

UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 17 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm last night.

Yesterday, 15 new cases were reported.

Eleven of the new cases are linked to known cases and six are under early investigation.

Five were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period. Twelve spent some of their infectious period in the community.

Eight people are in hospital with COVID-19, two are in intensive care and one person requires ventilation.

There were 2992 tests yesterday. Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, who conducted this morning’s briefing, said it was “not a bad number for a Saturday”.

Compliance activities have continued. There were 82 traffic stops yesterday and two directions to leave the ACT.

NSW has recorded 1083 new cases, and 13 people have died with the infection in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm last night.

Yesterday, NSW recorded 1331 new cases and six deaths.

Victoria has recorded 507 cases and one death. Yesterday there were 535 new infections and one death.

Australian National University.

The Australian National University’s Oliphant building has been listed as an exposure site. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A Red Hill construction site, a building at the Australian National University (ANU) and a number of public transport routes have been listed as exposure locations overnight.

Anyone at the Yarra Rossa construction site on Hicks Street between 7:00 am and 4:00 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday (14 and 15 September) or between 7:00 am and 10:30 am on Thursday is considered a casual contact.

A second worksite in Manuka at the Renaissance on Light Street has also been listed as a casual exposure site between 7:20 am and 1:00 pm on Saturday (11 September).

Anyone at the Oliphant Building at ANU between 8:50 am and 1:15 pm on Tuesday (14 September) is considered a casual contact.

Busy Bees early learning centre at Crace has again been named a casual contact site, this time between 8:45 am and 2:30 pm on Wednesday (16 September).

Five public transport routes, including the Route 3 bus from the Belconnen to the city interchange, the Route 4 bus between the Woden and city interchange and the light rail have also been listed as casual exposure sites across Saturday, Sunday and Monday (11 to 13 September).

Supermarkets in Weston Creek, Wanniassa, Hughes, Kambah, Kippax, Crace, Melba, Wason, Belconnen and East Row in the city have also been listed as exposure locations.

The complete list of exposure locations is available at www.covid19.act.gov.au.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman will update the ACT’s COVID-19 situation at 11:45 am.

More to come.

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Someonesmother1:01 pm 20 Sep 21

This is all very well but what about people who are immunocompromised and want to know where people have been so we can avoid those places. We have been left out of any consideration in any of the state, territory of commonwealth planning.
Are we that expendable that we don’t even rate a mention or care? Guess what, we vote, we pay taxes and we damn well matter #AUSPOL #ACTGoverment

Any informed updates on schools in the ACT and Victoria planning to commence staged returns on 5 October, but NSW not until 25 October?

They’re actually all very similar.

In NSW, year 12 students have already begun a staged return and that is the only year group going back in Vic and the ACT (partially) on 5th October. Year 12 students won’t be on campus until week 3, 19th October in the ACT.

The other year groups won’t be back til later under all the plans, although the ACT government haven’t actually given specific dates yet, whereas NSW and Vic have.

Ah yes, specific dates –

I see the Vic road map (for Metro Melb at least) says

“Indicative date: 5 October 2021
Subject to Public Health consideration of
epidemiology at the time”


and the NSW Education Dept’s latest update says

“…stay-at-home rules apply to all schools in Greater Sydney (including the Blue Mountains and Wollongong) until at least 12:01 am 30 September.”

For the state generally, they will

“provide additional updates as the current situation evolves.”


Thanks for providing the information that agrees exactly with what I’ve said.

Which seeing as you already knew that makes your first question rather strange.

Almost like you weren’t after information but rather attempting a political statement that seems to have backfired on you.

The first sign of admitting, as NSW and Vic have done, that lockdown didn’t work this time. It may have the first time around but it’s time for some new thinking. I wonder if they are up to it?

Just to note:

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews explained today the plan for when Victoria reaches its 80 per cent vaccination target (Estimated to be around the 5th Nov) . To note NSW also has a plan.

-Some other things to note:

– Victoria is basing it’s plan on 80% of Victorians being vaccinated. Chief Minster Barr has been saying that the ACT is now aiming for 80% National vaccination rate being met.

The Question is …Why?

– Why has the ACT interpreted the National Plan as overriding jurisdictional sovereignty?
– Why are we in the ACT waiting for a national rate to be met, when Victoria (and to my understanding NSW) are basing their easing of restrictions on state vaccination thresholds being met? What is so different about the ACT scenario versus these 2 states that we need a different approach – waiting for national levels vs state levels?

– The ACT is currently tracking to meet 80% vaccination rates sooner than all states except NSW(see the guardian article link below). Some states such as WA, SA, NT are not expected to meet 80% till December.

– Also why is a state the size of Victoria able to propose a plan, and we are still waiting for one from the ACT?


Why has the ACT interpreted the National Plan as overriding jurisdictional sovereignty?

The National Plan is an agreement of all States and Territories about the standards to be achieved after which, as a country, we would all open up.

There would be little point in the ACT opening up and being trapped at the NSW border!

With the ACT, being an island within NSW, we are limited by the Covid achievements of that State and so far, their results aren’t that good.

If individual jurisdictions open up earlier, that doesn’t mean other jurisdictions would recognise that decision.

The original point in the National Plan of individual jurisdictions not reducing restrictions until the national rates were hit was based on the premise that the borders would be open so you would need to prevent movement of people into lower vaccinated areas to protect them. This was along with the wish to ensure everyone had equal access to the vaccine supply.

Seeing as the borders to all of those lower vaccinated areas are hard closed for the foreseeable future, there is literally no point for us to wait for those National rates. Particularly considering the ACT and NSW have vaccination rates significantly higher than the national average.

You can open up the ACT without opening up the ACT to other states. It’s about removing restrictions internally (as you would see with the Victoria plan) not opening up state borders.

There is a series of progressions. At the moment, we have had the Dept Chief Health Officer claim that schools in the ACT will not go back to face to face until National vaccination thresholds are achieved.

Can you not open up the ACT internally, whilst waiting to open up to other states, and then next step, internationally?

And if you read the link in the guardian, you will see NSW vaccination is on par or better than the ACT’s per capita.p at the moment.

So do we keep schools closed, people in lockdown, till we can all cross the finish line together, or can we not stagger the approach?

And now we see that Victoria is following a similar plan to NSW to begin the reopening process at 70% Vaccination rates for 16+.

So despite the two largest states surrounding us outlining a far more detailed roadmap for reopening with significantly more COVID cases , Andrew Barr thinks we need to be wrapped in cottonwool with ever moving increased vaccination targets.

Wonder whether Andrew Barr will come out and attack his fellow ALP government in Victoria like he’s been doing in response to NSW?

The casualty of the war on COVID has been the suffering of the families affected, and the truth to the rest of the community. Politics has no role in protecting the health of its citizens. ACT Government continues to bow to the power of the unions.

A pity the ACT Government spent $1.5b on Light Rail rather than on health and education. Now we the residents are paying for this with a health system that can’t cope with more than 8 people hospitalised with Covid. A failure of their responsibility as our elected representatives.

Exactly, when our population was around 250k we had 3 hospitals. Our population as almost doubled but we only have 2 public hospitals.
What the government should do is pause stage 2 of the tram project and expanad the public hospitals or better yet a new hospital. A new tram line will not help us out of covid.
Also surrounding NSW areas are serviced by Canberra hospitals so we need more capacity because as it is, the health system is struggling.
Keeping us in lockdown till some self-motivated vaccination percentage is achieved is simiply Barr hidding the lack of investment in our hospitals.
But will Barr prioritise what is best for us than his train project.

Cool story. Except that isn’t what has happened. No where near that much has BEEN spent on lightrail nor has what has been spent been at the expense of health in particular. And in the case of Covid they have a purpose built Covid hospital which many of the usual anti labor suspects on this very board where claiming was a waste of money 12 months ago. Go figure.

Don’t bet me wrong health has its issues that’s for sure, but money isn’t one of them.

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