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

Dominic Giannini and Genevieve Jacobs 22 September 2021 126
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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126 Responses to UPDATE: Barr says deaths may be unavoidable as ACT opens up
Paul Totterdell Paul Totterdell 4:22 pm 23 Sep 21

Those deaths will be amongst the most vulnerable and their carers. These people are already in strife, have been for years. It will come as no surprise to them that they will now be sacrificed for some spurious economic reason. Oh.. sorry, you are trying to help mental health? where was that focus before the virus?

A very harsh interpretation. The ACT government has done better than most. Nevertheless, we are now in the business of deciding weather looking after our most vulnerable is worth it.

I seem to see us deciding that they are not worth it.

Is it just me that has a problem with that?

Matthew Hamilton Matthew Hamilton 3:33 pm 23 Sep 21

Sack the government

Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 3:12 pm 23 Sep 21

"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." The name Harvey Norman comes to mind.

Maree Commens Maree Commens 1:38 pm 23 Sep 21

Why vaccinate if the death rates and cases will increase - makes no sense to me

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 10:27 am 24 Sep 21

    Maree Commens because without vaccination, both infection and death rates would be a lot higher and we need our hospitals for non-covid related health treatments?

Matt Jones-clarke Matt Jones-clarke 12:53 pm 23 Sep 21

the amount of money and job keeper and the lock downs to the economy have cost they could have build 20 hospitals to cope with the .09% that may die to covid , should be employing and educating more medical staff

Wb Mozzy Wb Mozzy 12:48 pm 23 Sep 21

We know this already...the rest of the world is 6 months ahead of us

Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 11:24 am 23 Sep 21

900 Australians died of influenza in 2019 and 1100 died of influenza in 2017. I don't remember any public health policy response in either of those two years.

    Sharon Harnett Sharon Harnett 12:19 pm 23 Sep 21

    Jay Annabel The flu shot.

    Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 1:33 pm 23 Sep 21

    Sharon Harnett my point is we didn't go into lockdown.

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 2:11 pm 23 Sep 21

    Jay Annabel be a we had the flu shot available, obviously 1100 people chose not to get it, and the flue shot is the governments response to the yearly flu.

    Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 3:13 pm 23 Sep 21

    Marc Edwards if we are locked down to prevent transmission of covid, why didn't we lock down to prevent transmission of influenza? Either lock down for both, or neither.

    Sharon Harnett Sharon Harnett 4:18 pm 23 Sep 21

    Jay Annabel You are less likely to die from the flu. You are less likely to have ongoing long term issues from the flu.

    Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 4:22 pm 23 Sep 21

    Sharon Harnett Come off it. A combined 2000 Australians died from influenza in those two years. How many Australians have died from covid? Not even close! Imagine if we locked down every time we had a bad flu season. But no, we just soldiered on.

    Ajay Cee Ajay Cee 8:06 am 24 Sep 21

    Jay Annabel 36 in 2020.

    Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 9:22 am 24 Sep 21

    Ajay Cee ...... a drastically reduced number in 2020 because of covid lockdowns.

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 10:20 am 24 Sep 21

    Jay Annabel yeah, that's because locking down stops viruses from spreading.

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 10:23 am 24 Sep 21

    Jay Annabel yes Jay, that is because we locked down. This isn't rocket science, clearly covid deaths would be a lot higher if we didn't lock down. Compare the 36 deaths from influenze last year with the 909 covid deaths we had and see how you do rationalising the situation.

    Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 11:11 am 24 Sep 21

    Ashley Latimer ok so why didn't we lock down in 2017 or 2019???

    Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 11:28 am 24 Sep 21

    Ashley Latimer locking down made sense in 2020 because we didn't have vaccines. Compare 2021 to 2019.

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 11:30 am 24 Sep 21

    Are you trying to imply that a covid-19 vaccine somehow has the same efficacy as a fully developed influenza vaccine which has had decades of improvements? What am I comparing between 2021 and 2019, covid deatgs or influenza deaths? Jay Annabel

    Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 11:35 am 24 Sep 21

    Ashley Latimer Compare the fact that almost 1000 people died of the flu in 2019 and we didn't care (and you probably would never have even known if I didn't tell you), with our current response to a much smaller number of deaths from covid.

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 11:40 am 24 Sep 21

    Jay Annabel yes we have a smaller number of deaths from covid because we locked down. Why did we lock down? Because it's more dangerous than influenza. Despite locking down, we still had close to 30x the deaths of influenza from covid last year.

Archie Mac Archie Mac 10:04 am 23 Sep 21

Well that’s just common sense and how humans have lived their lives since time immemorial

Neil Chandler Neil Chandler 7:20 am 23 Sep 21

Nada Krstin people who have allergies to some of the vaccine components, or who have blood clotting disorders like thrombosis. Also, people who have recently had chemotherapy and are being treated for some autoimmune conditions with suppressed immune systems can take the vaccine, but won't produce antibodies. Because its ineffective for these people, they may be exempted for a specific period of time. They are some of the most at risk from Covid for the same reasons - their body just can't fight it.

Elvis Jurić Elvis Jurić 2:43 am 23 Sep 21

I thought there was a plan for everyone to get at home rapid antigen tests. Test yourself before you leave your home.

Nathan Burraston Nathan Burraston 12:17 am 23 Sep 21

The small business minister has not made a single appearance at a presser or personally announced a single measure of assistance to small ailing businesses in 6 weeks. 10,000 are eligible, 1,000 have received support.


    Mark Ryan Mark Ryan 10:13 am 23 Sep 21

    Nathan Burraston we have a small business minister?😏

    Nathan Burraston Nathan Burraston 10:18 am 23 Sep 21

    Mark Ryan we have a minister for business, most are small businesses so yes there is a minister (supposedly)

    Mark Ryan Mark Ryan 10:22 am 23 Sep 21

    Nathan Burraston been in business 35 years in this town, never met one or had muchbto hear from any of them since self govt. You would think we would see a lot more these days. Shows where us small biz owners ( large employer group) sits on the ladder with this govt.

Acton Acton 11:18 pm 22 Sep 21

“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.

    Dorfrom Dorfrom 10:34 am 24 Sep 21

    “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 .

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 10:02 pm 22 Sep 21

Of course deaths are inevitable. It’s the number of deaths that is the question. That’s why we need a plan that’s predicated on more than just the rate of vaccination. It needs to be a gradual end of restrictions with monitoring in between to make sure things don’t get out of hand.

Still I have a lot more confidence in minimising deaths in the ACT than if I lived in NSW. 1000 cases a day and opening up. Good luck.

Mike Diy Mike Diy 9:37 pm 22 Sep 21

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

Pammy Howarth Pammy Howarth 9:23 pm 22 Sep 21

#AndrewBarr and his team have done an amazing job.

Frank Morella Frank Morella 8:48 pm 22 Sep 21

What does he know about death! People die every day! Canberra has the highest suicide rates his doesn't report them!!!

    Adam Mead Adam Mead 9:33 pm 22 Sep 21

    Frank Morella do you have a source for this claim?

    I ask as sources I have found show the exact opposite to your statement.

whatwik whatwik 8:29 pm 22 Sep 21

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.

Peter Higgins Peter Higgins 8:13 pm 22 Sep 21

Their modelling is based on the fact that the vaccines do absolutely nothing. Otherwise, their modelling would tell a different story.


    Colin Vivian Colin Vivian 11:31 pm 22 Sep 21

    Peter Higgins did you bother looking at any of the modelling before spouting such obvious rubbish?

    You need look no further than the first page to see what it says is the opposite of your claims:

    “…rapid epidemic growth is expected at 50 and 60% coverage, with more substantial transmission reduction by 70 and 80% targets.”

    Why choose Israel? It’s one of about 100 level 4 countries listed by the CDC. All the others don’t support your case?

    Rob Mcgrath Rob Mcgrath 10:16 am 23 Sep 21

    Peter Higgins Israel has lots of covid but because they have a very high vaccination rate they don't have as many people in hospital or dying. The vaccine isn't perfect but it's a lot better than getting covid unvaxxed.

    Peter Higgins Peter Higgins 12:52 pm 23 Sep 21

    Colin Vivian hmmm, I wonder if the modelling was same with whooping cough, measles, smallpox... nope. Try again.

    Colin Vivian Colin Vivian 1:00 pm 23 Sep 21

    Peter Higgins I’ve no idea what your talking about. You obviously don’t have either.

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 10:17 am 24 Sep 21

    Peter Higgins you understand how those diseases are different from a strain of covid, right?

    Peter Higgins Peter Higgins 10:23 am 24 Sep 21

    Ashley Latimer you understand how this vaccine is different from those vaccines, right? Do you think that by vaccinating 90% of the population against say smallpox (unprecedented) and then opening up the economy, you would see an increase in the deaths and spread of smallpox? No, because that was a vaccine.

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 10:31 am 24 Sep 21

    Peter you can't compare 2 completely different viruses and draw a rational conclusion.

    Peter Higgins Peter Higgins 10:38 am 24 Sep 21

    Ashley Latimer you’re right. You can’t. But you can compare vaccine efficacy and public policy.

    As I stated, their modelling is based on the vaccines doing absolutely nothing. Look at the modelled result.

    Ashley Latimer Ashley Latimer 10:54 am 24 Sep 21

    Peter Higgins vaccine efficacy and public policy are obviously going to be different depending on the virus 🙄

    We don't and probably will never have a cure-all for the huge range of covid viruses, in your opinion does that mean that people shouldn't get their flu shot, or stay away from people with a cold?

    Colin Vivian Colin Vivian 11:19 am 24 Sep 21

    Peter Higgins you obviously didn’t read the modelling. If you did it would be fascinating to see how you reached that conclusion: magical thinking?

Laura Horrell Laura Horrell 7:57 pm 22 Sep 21

All the people that want to be vaccinated….. think about children under 12 who CANT get vaccinated.

    Kirsty Smith Kirsty Smith 8:54 pm 22 Sep 21

    Laura Horrell with 4 kids under 12 this plays heavily on my mind…if they require hospitalisation we can’t even be there with them. 😢

    Laura Horrell Laura Horrell 8:57 pm 22 Sep 21

    Kirsty Smith plays heavily on my mind too as my two are vulnerable AND under 12 😭

    Yes it’s important to open back up particularly for business and mental health BUT we need to think about the youngest of our population that CANT be protected.

    It’s not as clear cut as opening the flood gates.

    Halz Walcott Halz Walcott 9:43 am 23 Sep 21

    Agree, this terrifies me. I have three under 4, with one high risk vulnerable.... im keen on understanding support for families in our position.

    Stas Idowu Stas Idowu 10:07 am 23 Sep 21

    Laura Horrell we cannot wait for everyone to be vaccinated before opening up... that will be 12 months away

    Laura Horrell Laura Horrell 10:13 am 23 Sep 21

    Stas Idowu I know that but the amount of people saying stop lockdown now is scary for parents of kids because they can’t be vaccinated and the overall vaccination rate isn’t high enough. Truly do get the reasons of business and mental health like I said earlier but even the CM has said death is inevitable. Scares me that this might be mine or someone else’s children. Young people including kids are more likely to mix whether it be a social situation or schools, early childhood settings. Perfect storm really.

Hajir Daneshvar Hajir Daneshvar 7:42 pm 22 Sep 21

Yes they will increase but there's no other option around it. Vaccine doesn't work well on immuno compromised people too. State of Vermont in US has more than 90% adult vaccination rate and the hospitalisation rate is 1 per 150k of population at the moment. We should open up when the risk becomes manageable.

    Annalisa Zaccheo Annalisa Zaccheo 9:05 pm 22 Sep 21

    Hajir Daneshvar where are you getting from the information that vaccine doesn’t work well on immuni compromised people? Just I am interested to learn more about it. No here to open un any polemics in regard to the issue.

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