Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman will ease COVID-19 restrictions from 9:00 am tomorrow morning (18 September), but has warned Canberrans against complacency after testing rates in the Territory fell to half what she expected them to be.
Testing rates have dropped to around 400 people a day this week, which Dr Coleman said should be around 600 to 800 a day to offset the risk of eased restrictions.
She suggested the lower testing rates could be a result of COVID-19 fatigue and putting cold symptoms down to hayfever.
“I think there are more people out there that have symptoms,” Dr Coleman said.
“Nothing is without some degree of risk and we are aiming to strike that balance to move forward supporting business and the community.
“The reason testing rates falling is a concern is because it is one of the central pillars for us to continue to move forward. We have to have confidence that we will be able to identify a case of COVID, if it appears, very quickly and very early.”
Under the eased restrictions, small venues, facilities and businesses will be able to have a maximum of 25 patrons – excluding staff – even if they do not meet the one person per four square metres requirement.
Dr Coleman also reminded patrons that the restrictions on alcohol consumption, where patrons need to remain seated, still apply.
Dr Coleman acknowledged that there would be an increased risk of COVID-19 spreading if an infected person visited a small venue with 25 people, but she had confidence in the ACT’s contact tracing ability.
“The easing of restrictions is being introduced for smaller venues at the moment where the cumulative public health risk is lower and can be offset more than if we were to allow larger gatherings,” she said.
“Knowing there are 25 people who are in that venue who may have been exposed means the risk of transmission and the size of the potential spread is small.
“We know that our public health team can contact trace, quickly and efficiently, 25 people – that is why we are starting with 25.”
While outdoor gatherings are still limited to 100 people, Dr Coleman flagged that a protocol to support events restarting in Canberra over the next couple of months is being finalised and should be released next week.