15 April 2020

Cruise ship claims third COVID-19 death in the ACT

| Michael Weaver
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Dr Kerryn Coleman

ACT’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

UPDATED 4:30 pm, 15 April: A woman in her 60s who acquired COVID-19 while on the Ruby Princess cruise ship is the third person to die in the ACT from the virus.

ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said this most recent death was a stark reminder of the danger of this disease at a time when the ACT had recorded just one new coronavirus case in the past four days.

“The very sad reality of this disease is that it is most dangerous for the elderly and the vulnerable, who are at a greatly increased risk of complications,” Dr Coleman said.

ACT Health confirmed the woman died at the Canberra Hospital and had acquired COVID-19 while on the Ruby Princess cruise ship.

“It is with sadness that I report that the ACT has recorded its third death from COVID-19,” Dr Coleman said.

“I offer my sincere condolences to this person’s family and friends. My thoughts are with you in this very difficult time.”

ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith declined to add further comment on whether the ACT Government would support the inquiry into the Ruby Princess or whether a criminal investigation should occur.

There have been no new cases of COVID-19 recorded in the ACT in the past 24 hours. The ACT’s total is still 103.

A total of 77 people have recovered from COVID-19 and have been released from self-isolation.

Two COVID-19 patients remain in Canberra hospitals. The remainder are isolating at home with ACT Health support.

Dr Coleman said contact tracing is still being conducted on a further two cases of coronavirus to determine how the virus was transmitted. She said investigations are proving to be complex and it is not known when results would be available.

“What we are looking at with those two cases is whether we can identify if there is a direct link to another case or not. It doesn’t necessarily mean there will be community transmission if we can’t identify that. What it tells us is that there is potentially one, two or several undiagnosed cases in the community.

“When we see several of those cases appearing, we will start to become concerned that there is a level of community transmission,” Dr Coleman said.

She said ACT Health would “scale up” testing in the areas where those cases are potentially appearing.

The number of negative tests in the ACT is now 6387.

Around 100 tests a day have been carried out since the Easter weekend, with the capacity to increase to pre-Easter levels when as many as 300 tests were being conducted at the Weston Creek Walk-In Centre and the drive-through testing centre at Exhibition Park.

Dr Coleman said that while there has been a flattening of the curve in Canberra, it is necessary to continue taking physical distancing seriously to protect the community.

“Staying at home as much as possible and practicing excellent hand and respiratory hygiene will help to save lives. Only go out when you need to, wash your hands regularly, for 20-30 seconds each time, and cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

“These measures give us the best chance to slow the spread of this disease and protect our most vulnerable,” Dr Coleman said.

The ACT Health minister also said pharmacies in Canberra had seen a large number of booking for this year’s influenza vaccine and it was important for elderly people and those who regularly receive the vaccine to book ahead.

“We don’t want to see double pressure on our health system from an influenza outbreak and a potential COVID-19 outbreak in our community,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“The has been an early surge in demand for the flu vaccination, which is absolutely fantastic. Some of the private sector supply chains were having trouble keeping up, but those supply chains are now moving again and pharmacists and GPs should be getting supplies of the vaccine for the next couple of weeks.”

The vaccine is free to people over the age of 65 and those wanting the vaccine should book ahead with their pharmacy or GP.

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