UPDATED 2:30 pm: The ACT Government is working to clear up a vaccine reallocation that would shortchange the Territory 60,000 Pfizer vaccines in October, Chief Minister Andrew Barr revealed at today’s (18 September) COVID briefing.
Mr Barr said he expressed his concern about the reduction in the ACT’s supply directly to the Prime Minister at yesterday’s National Cabinet meeting, but he said the two governments were working in a “positive and productive way”.
“We want this clarified so we can confidently go ahead with our October program. I suspect that this will be able to be positively resolved,” Mr Barr said.
A little over half of the 60,000 doses would have been allocated to GPs, which would be offset by the arrival of the Moderna vaccine at pharmacies this week, Mr Barr said.
The change in expected supply would slow the ACT reaching the 70 and 80 per cent fully vaccinated thresholds outlined in the national plan.
“If the ACT is not able to secure the vaccines we were anticipating, that would potentially delay us achieving particular thresholds,” Mr Barr said.
“My hope is that, as has been the practice from the Commonwealth, they would not be seeking to withdraw vaccines from a jurisdiction that has an active outbreak. In fact, the policy has tended to be the opposite, that they wanted to get more vaccines into jurisdictions that have active outbreaks.
“Given that we have been very generous in providing between 10 and 12 per cent of our vaccine supplies to NSW residents [and] we have been good neighbours to the Canberra region, and we are in the middle of an outbreak, I would hope we would not receive a reduction in our supplies.”
The ACT will move to gradually ease restrictions when both the Territory and national average surpass vaccination thresholds.
The national average will be heavily weighted towards vaccination rates in NSW, Victoria and then Queensland as the third most populous state.
Mr Barr said that with NSW and Victoria surging ahead and accounting for 58 per cent of Australia’s population, there would not be a significant gap between when the ACT and the national average surpassed the thresholds.
But he said any large gap between the two “would provide the ACT with even greater protection against very high case numbers as we do ease through medium to low, and then to the baseline, public health and social measures”.
Mr Barr also said that stay at home orders or directions to only leave the house for essential reasons would not remain in place until mid-November.
“We have lockdown arrangements in place until 15 October. There will be a review point in a couple of weeks and then a further review ahead of that schedule.
“What you should anticipate is that we will have a gradual easing, and we will move from the high [restriction] measures that we are in, and we would transition through medium to low and then baseline.
“That transition will occur between 15 October and through into December and towards Christmas where you want to be in a position where you have 95 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.”
The new modelling presented to National Cabinet predicted a jurisdiction with a population of 500,000 that had only partial test, trace, isolate and quarantine capabilities and low-level public health measures at the 70 per cent threshold would result in a peak of 2500 cases a day.
Mr Barr said contact tracing became difficult when daily cases in the ACT surpassed 30. Yesterday, the ACT recorded 30 cases.
12:30 pm: There are 15 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT overnight, seven of which are linked, although only two cases were in quarantine during their entire infectious period.
Six were household contacts and at least seven spent part of their infectious period in the community. Eight people are hospitalised, including one in intensive care on ventilation.
The outbreak now totals 601 cases and 237 are active.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman told today’s COVID briefing that there are 300 active exposure locations but no new additional public sites of transmission or associated cases.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said yesterday’s National Cabinet briefing from the Doherty Institute shows that making major changes to restrictions at 70 per cent would not be safe.
The modelling shows that “ongoing application of medium public health social measures is deemed prudent” until at least 80 per cent national average vaccination coverage is achieved. At high caseload numbers, maintaining optimum test, trace, isolate and quarantine (TTIQ) measures is unlikely to be possible.
Mr Barr said the advice was that flexibility to strengthen public health measures generally or locally would still be necessary to contain transmission when there are active cases, even in highly immunised populations.
“That ought to settle that debate once and for all,” the Chief Minister said. “You could not walk away from yesterday’s briefings and think it was prudent at 70 per cent to be doing radical things.
“Opening is at 70 per cent is not prudent; that was the very clear guidance provided to us yesterday.”
Commonwealth Health secretary Dr Brendan Murphy is working on an analysis of the national health system’s capacity to cope with a surge of infections once 80 per cent national average vaccination is reached.
“The smaller the number of people who are left exposed, the lesser the burden on the health system and the more protected our community will be, noting that vaccinated people can still get sick, quite sick, can still transmit the virus and would still be required to quarantine,” Mr Barr said.
But he noted concerns that there could be asymptomatic cases among unvaccinated people who will transmit the virus. Rapid antigen testing and random screening will become more critical in the next phase of TTIQ, transitioning through the national plan.
Medium restrictions under the Doherty Institute modelling would include stay at home orders except for work, study and accepted reasons, essentially “lockdown light”, with a range of other social health measures that could be dialled up and down.
“It will not be freedom day at 70 per cent. It never was and never will be. At 70 per cent, it’s a gradual easing out of current restrictions”, Mr Barr said.
A total of 3639 tests were carried out yesterday. There were 2735 traffic stops conducted yesterday in a joint operation between ACT and NSW police. There were 43 directions to leave the ACT issued.
Mr Barr is also seeking clarity over suggestions that the ACT might lose some of its promised Pfizer supply in October. He said those concerns had been noted and conversations were underway with Commonwealth Health authorities to ensure there was no reduction in supply.
“I would hope, given we have been very generous in providing 10 to 12 per cent of our supply to NSW residents, that we’ve been good neighbours for the Canberra region and are in the middle of an outbreak, we wouldn’t see a reduction in our vaccine supply,” Mr Barr said.
UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 15 new COVID-19 cases.
Yesterday the ACT recorded 30.
Seven of the 15 cases are linked and eight are under investigation.
Only two people were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; at least seven spent part of their infectious period in the community. Contact tracers are investigating the others.
There are currently eight people in hospital with COVID-19 and one person is in ICU requiring ventilation.
A total of 3639 tests were conducted in the ACT yesterday.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr reported that 77.4 per cent of the 12-plus population in the ACT has received a first dose of vaccine and 53.1 per cent of the 12-plus population is double dosed and now considered fully vaccinated.
Over 90 per cent aged 40-plus have received a first dose of the vaccine.
On compliance, 2735 traffic stops were conducted as part of the ACT-NSW joint operations. Police issued 43 directions to leave the ACT.
NSW has recorded 1331 new cases and six deaths.
Three of the six people who died were not vaccinated and three had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Yesterday the state recorded 1284 cases and 12 deaths.
Victoria has recorded 535 new infections and one death.
Yesterday there were 510 cases and one death.
Costco Canberra and a large number of supermarket chains have been listed as new exposure locations.
Anyone who attended Costco at Canberra Aiport between 1:45 pm and 3:15 pm on Sunday, 12 September, or the Majura Park Woolworths between 2:45 pm and 3:50 pm on the same day, is considered a casual contact.
Jim Murphy’s Airport Cellars between 3:15 pm and 4:15 pm on Sunday is also a casual exposure location.
Woolworths Gungahlin has also been listed as an exposure site. Anyone who visited the supermarket between 6:25 pm and 7:15 pm on Wednesday, 15 September, is considered a casual contact.
Coles Canberra Centre, Coles Kaleen, Woolworths Erindale, Supabarn Casey and Coles Express Gungahlin and Phillip have also been listed as exposure sites.
The complete list of exposure locations can be found at www.covid19.act.gov.au.
The growth in exposure sites follows an increase in the ACT’s daily case numbers yesterday (17 September) when 30 were reported, up from 15 on Thursday.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was too early to tell whether the spike was a one-off, but it was “not a good number”.
Mr Barr confirmed that border compliance activities would ramp up in light of the increased case numbers. The Defence Force has been brought in to assist police from both NSW and the ACT who are undertaking joint compliance activities.
Earlier this week, ACT authorities confirmed at least eight separate incursions of the virus into the Territory during this outbreak, including the case which led to the first cluster.
Mr Barr and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman will update the ACT’s COVID-19 situation at 11:45 am.
More to come.