Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he accepted that having no deaths may not be possible as the Territory begins to ease restrictions at certain vaccination thresholds.
Modelling has predicted hospitalisations and deaths will increase as jurisdictions begin to reopen, even when the 70 and 80 per cent fully vaccinated thresholds outlined in the national plan are met.
Mr Barr said he wants everyone to have had the chance to get vaccinated before accepting a higher level of risk associated with eased restrictions in the coming months.
“There does come a point at which we can say, everyone who wants to be vaccinated has been given the opportunity, and that moment is coming, but it is not before 15 October,” he said.
“That is not to say that we will not be easing restrictions gradually over the next month while we still have people [getting] vaccinated, so we do accept there is a level of risk. What we need to do is ensure we get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible as we gradually ease our restrictions.
“People who choose not to get vaccinated for reasons other than medical conditions are taking a massive risk.”
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 if the ACT started recording thousands of cases every day, the health system would quickly be overrun as around 10 per cent of cases require hospitalisation.
But the government is under sustained pressure from businesses to provide a more detailed roadmap out of the current lockdown once specific thresholds are reached.
Mr Barr defended the government’s approach, saying there were too many caveats to be able to predict what restrictions would be able to be eased weeks and months into the future.
The ACT Government is due to review its restrictions at a lockdown checkpoint early next week. The current lockdown is scheduled to end on 15 October with certain caveats in place.
Business support grants continue to flow through as the lockdown nears the end of its sixth week, with the ACT Government paying out more than 3000 business support grants, totalling $50 million, as of this afternoon (22 September).
But the number of businesses paid out is less than 40 per cent of the 8000 which have applied, drawing criticism from the sector that the rollout has been too slow.
Almost 2500 applications require further information before they can be processed, accounting for about a third of all applications.
Mr Barr defended the ACT Government’s decision to put in additional requirements to access the grants, despite the Commonwealth only requiring a genuine Australian Business Number amid criticism of the support’s slow rollout.
He explained that the ACT Government had learnt from the fraud risk that occurred in other jurisdictions and maintained that the government had gotten the balance right between minimising fraud and getting the funds to businesses in a timely manner.
“We did work with the Commonwealth on the design of the scheme. We have put in place the requirements we believe are necessary to avoid fraud,” he said.
“Both NSW and Victoria shared their learnings from their business grant schemes last year.
“They were audited by the respective state’s Auditor-Generals and the very clear advice that was discussed at the board of treasurers was that there were significant fraud risks and there were ways to avoid those and we put them in place.”
Just over 130 applications have been rejected.
Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said it was “shameful” that fewer than half of businesses that applied for grants had received funds six weeks into lockdown.
“For the Chief Minister to say his government has struck the right balance between ensuring no fraudulent activity takes place and critical support reaching businesses is outrageous and a slap in the face to the Canberra business community,” she said.
“It has become abundantly clear that this Labor-Greens Government is unable or unwilling to support the thousands of Canberra businesses crying out for help and is instead treating them with disrespect.
“The Canberra Liberals are hearing from so many businesses who applied for these critical grants on the first day they became available and are still waiting while they attempt to pay the bills piling up.”
UPDATED 12:30 pm: There are 17 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, nine are linked to existing cases and all are household contacts.
Only one person was in quarantine for their entire infectious period; at least 11 people have been in the community during their infectious period.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was “not your average Wednesday”, on a day when a major earthquake was felt here in Canberra and across South Eastern Australia pushed COVID-19 temporarily from the headlines.
Mr Barr said that the number of infectious people in the community continues to be of concern.
Twelve people are now hospitalised, two of whom are in intensive care. Both require ventilation and neither are fully vaccinated. Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said that 222 active cases are being managed in the ACT.
“Only one person in quarantine does sound very concerning, but it’s important to remember we are still interviewing the remaining five people,” she said.
Busy Bees Childcare Centre, Bidfood and Ainslie Village are the only three remaining public transmission sites. The Calwell Early Childhood Centre has been upgraded to a close contact site. There are now more than 430 active exposure sites.
Yesterday 1988 tests were carried out, which Mr Barr said was “low”.
“We’ve had too many people waiting days and days before coming forward to get tested,” Mr Barr said, urging people to get tested at the slightest sign of symptoms or if they had been to exposure sites.
The ADF has now joined ACT Policing in major border crossing patrols around the ACT.
COVID business compliance teams are also active with generally good compliance except for mask-wearing.
“Those who have been already reminded won’t be showed the courtesy of further reminders on this point. It is so frustrating for everyone doing the right thing to see that we still have workplaces, businesses, where mask-wearing is not happening,” Mr Barr said.
He reported that 81 per cent of Canberrans have now had their first dose of vaccine and 56 per cent are fully vaccinated. Based on forward bookings, Mr Barr said he was confident that Canberra’s total vaccination rate will exceed 95 per cent.
The ACT Government has also announced they will hire 90 more nurses and midwives across the public system and Calvary Public at Bruce, at a cost of $50 million in the October budget.
Mr Barr said that Canberra’s healthcare workforce has made “significant personal sacrifices” in providing care throughout the outbreak.
“I speak for all Canberrans in thanking our nursing workforce for their help,” he said. “Our entire local health care workforce has gone above and beyond to support our community.”
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said nursing and midwifery ratios would be delivered in a phased rollout, agreed on with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. Recruiting will begin later this year for 90 FTE nursing and midwifery positions.
Ms Stephen-Smith also referred to a rumour on social media that anyone can turn up for vaccination at the Canberra Hospital today. She said a vaccination clinic at the hospital is for staff and vulnerable patients only and that members of the public would be turned away due to significant visitor resections at the hospital.
11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 17 new cases of COVID-19 to 8:00 pm last night.
There were 16 cases yesterday.
Nine of the 17 cases are linked and the remaining are under investigation by ACT Health.
Only one of the new cases was in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period and at least 11 spent part of their infectious period in the community. Investigations are continuing.
There are 12 people in hospital with COVID, and two are in intensive care, both requiring ventilation, neither of whom are fully vaccinated.
A total of 1988 tests were conducted yesterday, which is considered low.
Business compliance teams are active across the city and compliance is good, with the exception of mask-wearing among employees. Compliance checks will continue to focus on masks and remind businesses of their obligations.
NSW has reported 1035 cases and the deaths of four women and one man from COVID.
Since this wave began in June, there have been 260 COVID-19 related deaths in NSW and 316 in total since the start of the pandemic.
Yesterday, NSW reported 1022 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths.
Victoria has recorded 628 new cases and three deaths overnight.
Yesterday, Victoria reported 603 cases and one death.
10:05 am: More than 90 nurses and midwives will join the ACT’s workforce under a $50 million initiative over the next four years.
Recruitment will begin later this year as the government works towards better nursing and midwifery ratios across the public health system.
During the 2020 election campaign, ACT Labor promised to improve ratios and hire an additional 400 healthcare workers – including 200 new nurses and 150 clinical staff like specialists and registrars.
The minimum ratio is yet to be agreed with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. It will vary depending on the clinical setting, including general medical, general surgical, acute aged care and the adult mental health unit.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the funding would deliver better outcomes for patients and staff and a safer workplace for nurses and midwives.
“Implementing ratios guarantees there will be more staff on the ward to provide care and ensures an increased skill mix on each shift to provide the best possible care for patients in our public health system,” she said.
“This commitment will also contribute to a more sustainable workforce by reducing staff fatigue and increasing job satisfaction across our health and midwifery workforce.”
The commitment for extra nurses was announced as dozens of new exposure sites were added overnight.
St Edmund’s College Canberra library is a close contact location for Friday, 10 September, between 8:10 am and 4:15 pm. The entire campus in Griffith has been listed as a casual exposure location between 7:45 am and 4:15 pm on the same day.
Forty-five new public transport routes have also been listed as casual exposure locations between Monday, 13 September and Friday, 17 September.
Woolworths and Liquor Legends Charnwood, Coles Express in Manuka, Caltex Woolworths in Hume and Woolworths Belconnen were listed as exposure locations between Friday, 17 September and Sunday, 19 September.
There are now more than 400 active exposure sites across the ACT. A full list of exposure locations can be found at www.covid19.act.gov.au.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Ms Stephen-Smith, and Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston will provide an update on the ACT’s COVID-19 situation at 11:45 am.