23 August 2021

UPDATED: ACT records 16 new COVID cases, CHO says testing numbers need to rise

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Nurse preparing COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine

Nurse preparing a COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine at the Garran Surge Centre, ACT Health. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

UPDATED 12.30 pm: There are 16 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, three of whom were infectious in the community. Thirteen of these have been linked to existing cases or exposure sites.

But as testing numbers slow, authorities are warning that Canberrans must come forward for testing while community transmissions are taking place in the ACT.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said at today’s press briefing that 3,740 tests were carried out yesterday, comparable with other jurisdictions.

“We need testing numbers to remain high. There is active community transmission in ACT. Anyone who has been to exposure locations must get out and get tested to ensure that we find any undetected cases,” she said.

Some changes to testing centres are expected with wet weather forecast over the next two days but Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said that although demand is coming as a significant number of people leave quarantine, she was confident testing centres would cope.

Vaccination registration will now be opened for 16 to 29-year-olds to receive Pfizer at ACT government clinics. The Chief Minister said that the 64,000 Canberrans in this age group who are not vaccinated can register on the My Digital Health Record website to receive the vaccine when it becomes available, expected to be next month. Phone lines are also available to assist with registration.

“Canberra is a young city, this is a large number of people,” Mr Barr said.”Be patient while we work through the registration process. You will not miss the opportunity to make a booking.”

Arrangements are also being finalised for the new mass vaccination clinic at the Australian Institute of Sport in Bruce enabling an accelerated vaccination program for 16 to 29-year-olds. Vaccination demand remains high: Mr Barr said that there are 17,135 bookings this week at ACT Government clinics.

The Chief Minister continues to urge caution about national plans to ease restrictions.

“It’s very disappointing that some senior politicians and some media outlets have glossed over the details of the national plan,” he said.

“Our rationale for signing up to the national plan is that there does need to be a pathway forward. Our rationale is that when properly implemented, in the detail that is there, it does represent a way forward.”

He said the difference between his position and that of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, could best be summarised as a three to six-week difference between dispensing the vaccinations and achieving full coverage, including the youth cohort.

“There is not a freedom day, it is a gradual easing,” Mr Barr said.

When asked whether the Delta variant was out of the bottle, he said elimination was still a worthy goal in the ACT’s case management.

“Does that mean that COVID and Delta won’t come back, no it doesn’t obviously. We will be at risk continuously. The short-term task is to manage the outbreak, the medium term to have settings in place to protect the community while we get vaccinated.

“We are buying time for all the people who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated. That is an obligation I feel very strongly about, that we owe it to the people who have not had an opportunity, the young people, the kids, to get vaccinated.

“If you choose not to get vaccinated, we can’t protect you. This is a race and we do need more people to come forward and we will do what we can to get you vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Dr Coleman said that four people are now hospitalised, two of whom are receiving care for COVID, but they are not in intensive care or require assistance with breathing support. A total of 13,500 close contacts remain in quarantine and there are a further 6100 casual contacts and 360 exposure locations across the entire ACT.

Specific areas of the ANU campus will be listed as exposure sites later today. Dr Coleman said that a multi-agency team effort continues to work with residents at Condamine Court housing, which is also expected to be listed as an exposure site when assessments are completed.

An additional disability support worker has also tested positive, bringing the cluster total to 15.

Dr Coleman said ACT Health continues to provide holistic support for clusters of particular concern, reducing the risk of transmission and providing support.

There has been criticism about when information was made public on the disability cluster.

However, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith strongly defended the decision to focus on getting information to the disability community first before disclosing it publicly.

She particularly noted the effort of disability community leader Dougie Herd in sharing information on the ACT Government response, but also widely publicising his decision to get vaccinated and giving people confidence in the program.

UPDATED 11:55 am: Chief Minister Andrew Barr has announced 16 new COVID-19 cases in the ACT.

Yesterday, the ACT recorded 19.

Thirteen of the 16 are linked to existing cases. Interviews are continuing with the remaining three, and three have been identified as infectious in the community.

Support is being provided to the vulnerable communities identified yesterday in the disability sector.

Across the border, NSW has recorded its third straight day of record cases.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced 818 new cases and three more deaths – all in their 80s and all with underlying health conditions.

The positive news for NSW is that according to Ms Berejiklian, the state is ahead of its vaccination schedule.

“I set a target of 6 million by the end of the month. We will be at least one week ahead of schedule,” she said.

A total of 586 people are in hospital and 100 are in ICU in NSW.

10:00 am: A swag of new COVID-19 exposure sites at the Erindale shops and another childcare centre are included in new close contact sites this morning.

Woolworths, the pharmacy, newsagent, The Butcher Shop, China Tea House and Crust Pizza at Erindale are listed from last week, while Bright Bees childcare centre at Nicholls in Gungahlin is an exposure site on three days from last week.

Other sites include Woolworths Weston and Belconnen again, 85 Degrees café and bakery at the Canberra Centre, and the Canberra Centre generally, Chemist Warehouse at Woden, and Zambrero restaurant in Weston, all at times last week.

There is also a massage centre at Harrison listed – Urban Fusion Massage and Day Spa – from 11 August.

Casual contact exposure sites include the above sites, Guzman y Gomez restaurant in the Canberra Centre, and the Westpac Bank and post office at Woden.

There are 33 new exposure sites, bringing the total to more than 350, but that number is expected to continue to grow.

To view the full list of exposure sites and times, visit the ACT COVID-19 website.

ACT Health is also investigating whether the Condamine Court public housing complex is an exposure site.

Health authorities are urging Canberra to continue to come forward for testing after numbers waned over the weekend.

But testing sites at Kambah and Brindabella will be closed today due to forecast wet weather.

Last night the ACT Government declared Victoria a COVID-19 affected area, meaning all travellers who enter the ACT from that state must quarantine.

The ACT has recorded 121 active COVID-19 cases.

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ChrisinTurner1:44 pm 23 Aug 21

It certainly is a “race”.

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