22 September 2021

UPDATE: Barr says deaths may be unavoidable as ACT opens up

| Dominic Giannini and Genevieve Jacobs
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Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr: “People who choose not to get vaccinated for reasons other than medical conditions are taking a massive risk.” Photo: Dominic Giannini.

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.”

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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.”

Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at this morning’s COVID briefing. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

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.

Doctor and patient

The ACT Government is recruiting more than 90 nurses and midwives over the next four years. Photo: Region Media.

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.

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“Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he accepted that having no deaths may not be possible”
Of course it is not possible to have no deaths. We have deaths every year from accidents, sicknesses and homicides. But life goes on. We don’t stop living, or going out, or travelling, or driving or swimming or flying because there is a slight risk of death, or getting a flu like sniffle. People have always died from the flu and politicians did not care or express sympathy when elderly people died of flu in previous years. By all means get vaccinated, but those who choose not to be vaccinated should not be forced to, or prevent the rest of the country from moving on. If you really genuinely believe that covid is so serious then think of non-vaccination as a form of voluntary euthanasia. Which the majoriy support. As for garbage-in, garbage-out modelling, it is no different from high priests of some religion predicting hellfire and damnation unless the multitude obey their figger-wagging edicts from the pulpit.

“Flu like sniffle” Yes, all those conservative radio hosts and preachers that thumbed their nose at covid. Like the hypocrites they were they went running to hospital for medical intervention to help save them from “Flu like sniffle” but was largely too late.

Your distinct lack of foresight on the impact on the medical system is mindblowing.

Stick to telling tales inside the TAB of how good it was in the 1950s .

How dare he be a competent politician. What kind of example will this be for others?

What is it with these breakout merchants? A rave festival organised for October?
By all means let us know the businesses involved and we’ll give them the support they deserve.

‘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’.

While we wait for everyone who wants to be vaccinated, to get vaccinated – what is the cost of strict lockdown or waiting for National (not ACT) vaccinations numbers to be met as the govt has stated in regards to school openings, has this evidence been sought? How does CM Barr feel about this?

Strict lockdowns have costs (lost business, lost jobs, lost income, un safe homes which can’t be left, social loss, learning loss etc etc) Does CM Barr feel that these people’s loss is worth waiting for just in case one models predicted scenario comes to pass? Not actual, predicted.

Has Barr/ACT govt thought hard about how they can limit current suffering and still manage covid and come up with no options? Do they not think people impacted by the extended lockdowns need hope? Or at the minimum, to have their suffering justified and the respect of a plan out presented? I think a leader of any jurisdiction should be able to answer these questions.

We know that most businesses are not getting the money they need/was promised to them.

What evidence has been sought to make a balanced, evidence based decisions between current actual evidence of those costs of lockdown being available, and modelled evidence predicting potential outcomes of covid cases?

Only one side of the picture (through one set of modelling) is being sought. This is not balance evidence based policy making,

Deep breath. It always helps.

If you read their roadmap or “pathway” the government freely admit they are not making a balanced decision.

Health due to COVID is at the forefront of any decision.

And the criteria listed for what they will consider before reducing restrictions only include COVID related metrics.

Now whether you believe that is true or not, that’s what they have freely told the electorate in their published plan.

Yes, I know they are just considering covid, that is what I am saying, my point is they shouldn’t be.

Feedback,
I agree with you.

Unfortunately people like JC ignore or twist what the government has actually written down because they want to believe the political spin that the CM is dishing out daily.

And people like you chewy do exactly the same.

As for pathways and balanced decisions have you actually read the National plan? It’s just as vague and considering Covid. What a surprise hey. But don’t see you criticising that just criticising the ACT government due to your blue Liberal shaded glasses.

JC,
Seeing as I’ve been the one quoting directly from the national plan, your memory seems a bit fuzzy.

And I’m still waiting for you to respond to the points made on the vaccination metrics. You keep claiming that it’s my “interpretation” but then go missing when asked to respond directly to what I’ve said. Hardly surprising, when my points are just quotes from the information in the referenced documents.

And it’s nigh on hilarious thrn that you think I support the Liberals when I was using the Labor led state of Victoria’s roadmap as a good example of the level of detail that should be provided.

Both NSW and Victoria have now released plans that provide good levels of information to the community with reasonable caveats on what might make those plans change.

Here in the ACT we have a CM telling us almost nothing and sycophants agreeing with what their “daddy” tells them is best.

‘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’.

This is constantly presented as a potential scenario by Barr- a one liner, on an estimate of population size of 500,000 and a general description of capabilities and measures.

Is CM Barr able to identifying the specific parameters and assumptions that went into this model?

A common issue with modelling is that a model is only as good as its assumptions and the data that is put into it.

Also, is this one liner reporting the most likely outcome or the upper limit of likely outcomes, with lower case numbers even on the modelling more likely to occur.

Even in Sydney we have not reached these limits, and restrictions have been eased and case numbers are flat lining.

Has the ACT government conducted its own modelling, drawing on data sets from it’s jurisdictions and parameters that actually reflect on the ground settings?

The model and studies are likely correct, they are published on the Doherty institute website. The problem is this is one of a number of scenarios used to give a range of likely outcomes.

However, the assumptions for the scenario being quoted are clearly not anything any reasonable person is suggesting we should do.

Partial test and trace measures are significantly less than we are currently doing and no one is suggesting that they should stop or that we shouldn’t maintain or grow that capacity.

Low level health measures would also be pretty much a full reopening, which most sensible people are also not suggesting should happen at 70% of 16+.

So presenting it as if its a realistic scenario is totally misleading and being used as an attempt to scare the population into longer and harsher restrictions that what is reasonable.

The Barr government’s covid response has been an absolute farce. Restrictions were never tough enough at the beginning to eliminate it nor does he have an actual roadmap out like the other states. Compliance is non-existent everywhere I go and nobody bothers to get tested. My relatives just spent a week in Sydney for business and didn’t get stopped or checked once on the road. They went via Queanbeyan and with NSW number plates there is no way to distinguish between residents and those that aren’t.
They need to end this farcical lockdown and open up like the rest of the country. Daily statistics on covid cases and hospitalisation are meaningless and blatant fear mongering. There are 136 people who die from cancer each day in Australia and those cases are not reported. More people literally died from the flu than have from covid this year. With high vaccination rates, which are more than sufficient currently and new treatments why are we bending over backwards and ruining our lives for this thing that is literally less harmful than the flu, cancer, obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption?

I’m not sure what extra restrictions would have been realistically tough enough beyond “everyone stay home and non-essential businesses will close” as soon as a case appeared.

No roadmap because we haven’t reached a point yet where not only where restrictions can start to be lifted, but not even where we can see a progression in case numbers that will give an indication on how restrictions can be lifted. In other words, you want a roadmap that we don’t know when it could be implemented and we don’t yet know in what form it will be able to be implemented.

Did your relatives deliberately go via Queanbeyan in order to avoid passing through ACT checkpoints? Did they get tested and isolate themselves when they returned because they traveled to a designated hotspot? Did they even need to go or could this business have been conducted remotely? It sounds like you’re trying to blame the ACT government for someone’s behaviour that is outside of their control.

First, you say the response was a farce and wasn’t tough enough. Then you say you want the restrictions ended and to open up like the rest of the country. It sounds like you’re just whinging for the sake of it. And what of the “rest of the country”? Sydney and Melbourne aren’t exactly open, and good luck if you want to try getting in to WA or Tassie.

When we have a vaccine for all the cancers that commonly kill people, *then* maybe you can start comparing it. And unless you’re a Tasmanian Devil, cancer isn’t rampantly contagious. And guess what, they had to isolate populations of devils to try and keep some healthy numbers, it’s almost like there is a way to deal with transmissible diseases, such as stopping transmission.

CaptainSpiff5:04 pm 22 Sep 21

Nailed it.

Please let sanity return.

Sam, did you recently hear of the local Covid positive female who was charged drink driving? In addition to not isolating, she had a car load of friends in her car.

It’s this sort of activity that increases our numbers and keeps us all in lockdown for longer.

So now consider the actions of your relatives breaching Health Orders and travelling to Sydney. If you are genuine about ending the lockdown, did you report your relatives?

It’s not my business nor anyone else’s what my relatives were doing in Sydney last week. There are hundreds travelling interstate everyday that you can’t police it or reporting them won’t have any impact on the case numbers. Canberrans are too docile to see the truth happy to sit in our cages like meek animals as a clueless government plucks us from our natural environment believing we’d do better in captivity. It seems the two cities that had protestors effectively ended the lockdowns there. The people have a right to express their voice and rally against government and unfortunately we have lost ours.

Capital Retro11:12 am 23 Sep 21

If we didn’t have most of the Canberra workforce being paid every fortnight as if nothing had happened there would be riots here too.

We only protest about climate change action, social justice issues and perceived oppression to minority groups of no real importance to the wellbeing of the majority.

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