17 September 2021

UPDATED: Border compliance to be ramped up throughout school holidays with the ADF to put ‘boots on the ground’

| Lottie Twyford
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ACT Policing compliance checks

ACT Policing conduct COVID compliance checks at the NSW/ACT border, Federal Highway. Photo: ACT Policing.

UPDATED 3:30 pm: Chief Minister Andrew Barr’s response to a question about whether border compliance activities will be ramped up over the school holiday was unequivocal and straightforward: “yes.”

Mr Barr said people should expect to see increased activity around the border and noted the ADF will be brought in to assist police from both NSW and the ACT who are undertaking joint compliance activities together.

“There will be boots on the ground,” he said.

Yesterday was the first day of a major compliance operation that saw 4301 vehicles stopped at major border crossings such as the Federal Highway, Lanyon Drive, Canberra Avenue and Monaro Highway.

ACT Road Policing Detective Acting Superintendent Donna Hofmeier said ACT Policing has been and will continue to work closely with NSW Police to cover traffic travelling in both directions.

She said that more than 20,000 vehicle compliance checks have been undertaken since lockdown began.

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Earlier this week, ACT authorities confirmed at least eight separate incursions of the virus into the Territory during this outbreak, including the case which led to the first cluster.

The LGAs of the Snowy-Monaro and Bega had their lockdowns lifted yesterday (16 September). However, Canberrans have been explicitly warned not to travel either to the South Coast or the snow.

As occurred last weekend in Yass, a single positive case in one of the regions will likely see residents plunged into a 14-day lockdown once more.

ACT residents are only permitted to travel to and from the approved NSW border postcodes for six reasons: essential work; childcare for essential workers; medical or healthcare needs; urgent compassionate care, support, or assistance to a vulnerable person; or visiting a partner where two people are in a relationship but do not live together; and for essential animal welfare purposes.

Cooper lodge

It’s understood a student at Cooper Lodge at the University of Canberra has tested positive for COVID-19. Photo: Google Maps.

Both of the Territory’s major universities have had their campuses exposed to COVID-19.

Students at UC were yesterday informed of a positive case, although ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman today provided no further information on the matter.

At the ANU, the facilities maintenance workshop of the Birch Building has been listed as a casual contact site for Monday, 13 September between 7:50 am and 9:20 am, 10:30 am and 1.30 pm; and between 3:00 pm and 4:30 pm on the same day.

Level 1 of the ANU’s Computer Science and Information Technology Building is also listed as a casual contact exposure site on Monday, 13 September, between 12:15 pm and 3:30 pm.

READ ALSO UPDATED: Inmate was falsely declared COVID-19 contact, but released without support or test for virus

Woolworths Erindale is now listed as a venue of concern on Monday, 13 September between 2:10 pm and 3:00 pm and Sunday, 12 September between 9:05 am and 10:10 am.

Coles Canberra Centre has been added to the list of casual exposure sites, with a specific timeframe of Wednesday, 8 September, between 1:35 pm and 2:30 pm.

There were no new close contact exposure sites listed in this afternoon’s update to ACT Health’s list.

Several new sites have been added to the ‘monitor for symptoms’ category.

See the website for the full list of exposure sites, specific venue categories and information on what to do if you are a close or casual contact.

Canberra Liberals MLA Giulia Jones yesterday questioned some of the ACT Government’s response to the outbreak, including whether or not fit-testing of masks for frontline health workers was being undertaken. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

UPDATED 2:15 pm: Shadow Minister for Health Giulia Jones said she was “utterly astounded” at the lack of fit-testing of protective masks for nurses working in Canberra Hospital, including for staff in the COVID-19 ward, the ICU and the Emergency Department.

According to Mrs Jones, it had taken weeks for this issue to be resolved.

She said she had been “utterly astounded to have been contacted by nurses who were afraid for their safety because their masks have not been properly fit-tested”.

She also noted that paramedics who are responsible for transporting patients had also not had their masks fit-tested.

Mrs Jones further called into question the preparedness of the ACT Government given the amount of time that has elapsed since the first case in Australia appeared more than 18 months ago.

In response to concerns regarding the fit-testing of masks, Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said today at the midday press conference that she was aware fit-testing was in place for Canberra Health Services staff but that it could take up to 45 minutes to occur.

“My understanding is that there are now two machines running seven days a week from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm at Canberra Health Services,” she explained.

“For staff who are working on COVID wards, the shifts have been organised so that fit-testing can occur.”

However, she did not clarify in her remarks how long this had been a requirement.

Mask fit-testing was recommended last year by some medical experts in the context of healthcare settings. It’s a process in which a surgical mask, usually a P2/N95, is matched to the face shape and size of the wearer.

Guidelines released in June by the Infection Control Expert Group (ICEG) recommended that all healthcare workers should have access to these classes of masks.

The guidelines also recommended fit-testing before first use and that a fit (seal) check should be undertaken each time they are used.

Yesterday, the ACT Legislative Assembly agreed to an amended motion from the Opposition to establish a select committee designed to scrutinise the government’s pandemic response.

More to come.

Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at today’s COVID briefing. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

UPDATED 12:30 pm: On one of the ACT’s worst days in the current outbreak, there are 30 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT.

Of these, 19 are linked, including 15 household contacts, but only 12 were in quarantine during their entire infectious period and health authorities are aware of at least 14 people who were in the community while infectious.

“Today is not the first time we have seen new daily cases numbers in the 30s, and it’s still too early to know if it’s a one-off, but it’s clear this is not a good number,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said at today’s COVID briefing.

“While we have a high number of people infectious in the community, case numbers will continue to grow.”

And less than a week after residential construction re-commenced, Mr Barr slammed significant COVID safety failures at several residential building sites as “unforgivable”.

“They have put employees and the general community at risk. It’s simply not good enough and the sites have been shut down,” Mr Barr said.

He noted that sites with Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Australia affiliations had shown “very strong compliance” and a good level of detail, highlighting the value of both industry associations and, he said, trade unions.

But Mr Barr warned that as the school holidays approached there would also be “massive” compliance activities on the NSW border.

Yesterday, more than 4300 people were stopped at four major border crossings and 12 were turned around.

“You cannot leave the ACT unless you have an essential reason,” Mr Barr said.

“We are going to have to be all over this.”

As National Cabinet meets this afternoon for what’s likely to be a long and complex meeting, the Chief Minister said that he was “quite concerned” about the pressure the Southern NSW outbreak places on the ACT’s hospital capacity.

He added that based on the modelling, the situation looks “quite scary across Australia”. However, the ACT could not evade its responsibility to take patients from Southern NSW.

A total of 2866 tests were carried out yesterday and there are a large number of new exposure sites.

Eight people are in hospital and one is in intensive care and being ventilated.

Mr Barr also reported that 52.3 per cent of the ACT’s 12-plus population is now fully vaccinated.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said there are no additional public sites of transmission, although two new household contacts have now been associated with the Busy Bees childcare centre.

The Department of Education building in the city is now listed as an exposure site on 10 September and the Burch building and computer science building at ANU will also be listed as casual exposure sites this afternoon.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said there are now 44 cases in the disability sector, including 34 allied health and support workers and 10 clients, although she warned these numbers don’t necessarily indicate how cases had been transmitted.

There is one distinct cluster of 30 cases where 13 are workers, including two NSW cases and six clients. The remaining 11 cases are tradespeople and household contacts of workers.

“I understand the current climate may be very concerning for people who come in to receive care. I’d like to reassure them that mitigation strategies are in place to lower the risk, including PPE and COVID-safe practices where possible, although that’s not always the case when providing support,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“If you are a worker, a reminder to please get tested at the first sign of symptoms and don’t work if you are unwell”.”

Hardship payments are available to ensure people don’t work while waiting for test results.

The Access and Sensory clinic is open five days per week at Weston Creek for people with a range of disabilities. Appointments can be booked by calling 5124 7700 and selecting number 3 for the dedicated disability line.

Mandatory vaccination is now in effect for the aged care sector.

The latest data indicates 98.2 per cent of workers have had one dose, and 83 per cent of workers have had both doses, a rate that Ms Stephen-Smith described as “an outstanding result”.

From now on, unvaccinated aged care workers can’t enter their place of work until they have had their first dose of vaccine.

Breast Screen ACT will reopen from Monday (20 September) after a five-week temporary closure. Anyone whose appointments were cancelled will be re-booked and text reminders for appointments will resume. All staff are fully vaccinated, one of the factors that enabled the service to re-open. Comprehensive COVID Safety Plans are in place at each of the ACT’s three clinics.

The Chief Minister said 50,000 first and second doses of vaccine are being administered every week across ACT Government clinics and primary health networks.

Minor changes to public health directions will come into effect tomorrow to allow more people to return to work in a COVID-safe way, including allowing local small businesses who are operating click and collect to have five employees on site to process orders.

Cars purchased prior to lockdown can now be collected at dealerships with COVID-safe arrangements in place. Residential and commercial real estate inspections can take place with no more than two people.

Mr Barr said there would be further updates at tomorrow’s COVID briefing following the National Cabinet meeting.

UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 30 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm last night.

Yesterday the ACT recorded 15.

Of the 30 new cases, 19 are linked to known cases and 11 are under early investigation.

Only 12 of the 30 were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period. At least 14 spent part of their infectious period in the community.

Eight people are hospitalised with COVID-19 and one is in intensive care requiring ventilation.

A total of 2866 tests were conducted yesterday but a large number of new exposure sites have been identified by ACT Health.

NSW has recorded 1284 new cases and 12 deaths in the past 24 hours to midnight (there were 1351 new cases yesterday and 12 deaths).

NSW Health has reported 49.6 per cent of the 16-plus population is now fully vaccinated. It is expected to hit 50 per cent today.

Victoria recorded 510 local cases and one death in the past 24 hours. Yesterday, Victoria recorded 514 new cases

Police officer on a construction site

COVID-19 compliance activities have been conducted building sites across the ACT. Photo: ACT Policing.

9:45 am: Four worksites were shut down yesterday in the suburb of Straithnairn for ‘significant’ breaches of COVID-19 safety requirements. One was issued a caution by ACT Policing.

However, she intends to contact three builders to commend them for being fully compliant with COVID requirements.

Commissioner Agius says there will be ongoing activities to ensure compliance across the construction sector.

READ ALSO Vaccine mandate for teachers won’t open schools faster, further safety measures for students flagged

Almost 50 new locations have been added to the ACT’s list of exposure sites today, including Lucky’s Speed Shop, a Fyshwick hot rod shop which has been named a close contact site between 12:00 pm and 2:30 pm on Saturday, 11 September.

Anyone at the site must complete the ACT contact declaration form, immediately quarantine, and get tested for COVID-19 as advised by ACT Health.

Close contacts must remain in quarantine until directed to leave, regardless of whether or not the test returns a negative result.

Sixteen new casual contact sites have also been listed across the Territory. Most of these are supermarkets.

In the Inner South, Coles Manuka is a casual contact venue on Thursday, 9 September between 5:22 pm and 6:10 pm; the Narrabundah Friendly Grocer on Saturday, 11 September between 3:10 pm and 4:00 pm, and then 6:00 pm to 6:45 pm. It’s also listed on Sunday, 12 September, between 6:00 pm and 6:45 pm and later 7:45 pm to 8:30 pm.

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment, Level 7 in the City is listed on Friday, 10 September, between 8:40 am and 4:45 pm.

READ ALSO Barr had little choice but to extend lockdown

Further south, Woolworths Conder is a casual contact site between 2:20 pm and 3:10 pm on Saturday, 11 September.

In Belconnen, venues of concern include Sea Harvest Belconnen on Saturday, 11 September between 1:50 pm and 2:50 pm, Market Meats between 2:10 pm and 3:10 pm and ALDI Belconnen between 3:00 pm and 3:55 pm on the same day.

On Sunday, 12 September, Woolworths Charnwood is listed between 12:30 pm and 1:20 pm and SupaExpress Kaleen between 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm.

For Monday, 13 September, Coles Belconnen is a casual contact site between 6:25 pm and 7:30 pm, as is Optimal Pharmacy Plus Jamison between 12:10 pm and 1:10 pm and Amcal+ Pharmacy Belconnen between 12:40 pm and 5:30 pm.

Twenty-five new monitor for symptom sites have also been added to the ACT Government’s website, spanning Crace, Casey, Conder, Greenway, Gungahlin, Griffith, Charnwood, Amaroo, Belconnen, Phillip and Canberra City.

See the full list for further details and specific times.

More to come.

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Nathan Worrell1:49 pm 17 Sep 21

I’m not surprised, Griffith and Narrabundah have house construction work going on all over the place and every time I take my dog for a walk not one worker is wearing a mask. The government could raise tons of revenue by just sending a couple of cops to do the rounds on construction sites.

This is the result of the cowboy section of the construction industry opening up.

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