29 December 2021

UPDATED: National Cabinet to redefine 'close contacts'; ACT records 138 cases, NSW 11,201

| Sally Hopman
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Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking to the media on 29 December 2021. Photo: Screenshot.

UPDATED 1:30 pm: National Cabinet will address the challenges around COVID-19 testing and classifications of a ‘close contact’ when it meets tomorrow as states set records for new infections.

“It is important that we continue to adjust and get as consistent an approach as we possibly can across all the states and territories,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a lunchtime media conference.

“What we are looking to do tomorrow is to ensure we get a definition of close contacts, and which tests are used in what circumstances, and how they are provided to manage a large volume of cases.

“A close contact then defines what sort of test do I need? And what do I need to do? Do I need to stay at home? For how long? What does that mean for people I work with? What does it mean for the people I live with?”

On the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Paul Kelly, Mr Morrison said people who share accommodation should be considered close contacts, not just someone you may casually cross paths with.

“When you are dealing with a high volume of cases, we can’t just have everybody being taken out of circulation just because they happen to be at a particular place at a particular time,” he said.

“The uncertainty of that, the impacts on the economy and, particularly given the fact we are not seeing this impact on our hospital system, means that it’s an impractical way to live with the virus in this next phase.”

READ ALSO Can you believe this is what we used to do in Canberra?

National Cabinet will also consider a shortened quarantine period of seven days for close contacts.

Mr Morrison noted that despite the high case numbers, at this stage they are not translating into unmanageable levels of hospitalisation.

“We, of course, will continue to see cases rise, but those cases are not translating into serious disease,” he said.

“As Omicron continues to go forward we will see further pressures, but states and territories are working very closely on their plans to deal with those challenges, and we will discuss that further tomorrow.”

Mr Morrison also explained that the Commonwealth had allocated $375 million to procure 10 million rapid antigen tests (RAT) for a national stockpile. Four million have been delivered and a further six million are on their way.

The costs will be shared with the states and territories, which are also securing millions of test kits. This morning, Victoria announced it had bought 34 million RAT kits.

Mr Morrison said only close contacts and people with symptoms should undertake a rapid antigen test.

“Close contacts need to have RAT tests. People who are symptomatic need to have RAT tests, and indeed, people who are symptomatic a PCR test.

“But what’s not necessary is for people to be going out and bulk purchasing RAT tests and having them every other day on a casual basis. If you are symptomatic then you should take one.”

The queue at the Garran COVID-19 testing centre.

Queues have been consistently long at the Garran testing facility since Omicron arrived. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

UPDATED 1 pm: The ACT has recorded 138 cases of COVID-19 to 8 pm last night.

Yesterday the ACT recorded 252 new cases.

The ACT’s active caseload is now 1028. Of these, four people are in hospital. There are no cases in ICU.

Of the Territory’s 12-plus population, 98.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

A total of 3041 negative test results were recorded in the 24 hours to 9 am this morning.

Murrumbateman’s only petrol station and general store is temporarily closed after a staff member tested positive to COVID-19.

Murrumbateman BP and Friendly Grocer, on the Barton Highway opposite the recreation ground, will remain closed until 7 am tomorrow (30 December; updated 3 pm, 29 December).

Sarker Mohsin from the store urged customers who visited the site to get tested as soon as possible.

The staff member worked on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Monday, 27 December.

The closest petrol for motorists heading back towards Canberra is Gungahlin, about 30 km from Murrumbateman, or if heading towards Melbourne, at Yass, about 19 km away.

NSW has set another COVID-19 record – 11,201 new COVID-19 cases on the back of almost 158,000 tests.

Yesterday the state recorded 6062 cases.

There are 625 people in NSW hospitals and 61 in ICU with COVID. There were three deaths.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet noted that with vaccination rates in the 90s, most people needing medical care are unvaccinated.

“It is clear from the evidence, and when you look at hospitalisations and ICU numbers, where we have 95 per cent of the population vaccinated across the state, the overwhelming majority of people in ICU are unvaccinated,” Mr Perrottet said.

At around noon today, NSW advised travellers to avoid testing to ease pressure on laboratories.

NSW Health noted that if travellers needed test results for interstate travel, they were unlikely to receive results within 72 hours.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said: “The ‘worried well’ should not be lining up for these tests. People who are travelling to Queensland should not be lining up for PCR testing. We need to take the pressure off the pathology laboratories.”

Victoria has recorded 3767 new cases and five deaths. More than 75,000 tests were performed.

Yesterday there were 2738 cases.

A total of 397 people are in hospital with the virus.

In Victoria, 92 per cent of the state’s 12-plus population is fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 drive through testing

Canberrans waiting for COVID-19 tests are asked to be patient at testing stations as demand for the service reaches capacity. Photo: File.

10 am: The Garran COVID-19 testing centre will give priority to close and casual contacts from today (29 December), as well as people with COVID symptoms and returned international travellers.

The changes came into effect this morning.

ACT Health said the Garran clinic will also test children under five years of age and their families for any approved reason, including pre-travel tests.

From today, the Garran clinic will be open for testing from 7:30 am to 9 pm.

The Nicholls site has been moved temporarily across the oval to the Gold Creek School Senior site, with access still available from Clarrie Hermes Drive.

READ ALSO ACT Health redefines ‘casual contact’ sites, changes rules for quarantine and COVID-19 tests

A spokesperson said that high demand for testing was expected today, and people are asked to be patient and park legally at testing sites.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause; however, the safety of our staff and the community is paramount,” the spokesperson said.

“Please be kind to our staff. They are working over the holidays to support the community and giving up time with their own families and friends.

“We understand that the extended waiting times can be frustrating, but we thank you for your patience.”

Earlier this morning, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced that from 1 January 2022, travellers into Queensland from interstate hotspots can use a negative Rapid Antigen Test to satisfy border pass requirements. A PCR test will no longer be required.

Earlier this week, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard accused Ms Palaszczuk of “passive-aggressive stupidity” for her refusal to scrap “tourism testing” requirements until the new year.

At 9 am today, the Mitchell testing site was at capacity. According to ACT Health, wait times at clinics are:

  • Nicholls testing clinic (open 8 am to 4 pm): 30 mins
  • Kambah drive through testing clinic (open 8 am to 4 pm): 3 hours 30 mins +
  • Mitchell drive through testing clinic (open 8 am to 10 pm): at capacity
  • Garran testing clinic (open 7:30 am to 9 pm): 1 hour 30 mins +.

More information on COVID testing is available from the ACT Government’s website.

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daveinhackett2:48 pm 29 Dec 21

Govt has allocated $375 million to buy 10 million RAT tests? That’s $37.50 per test. Today Chemistwarehouse is advertising a 5-pack for $50, meaning $10 per test. And that’s retail, with their profit margin included. Bulk buying by the govt should of course mean a significant discount – say, $7 per test. Not $37.50. What’s going on?

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