23 February 2023

Garran Surge Centre to come down as government relinquishes COVID powers

| James Coleman
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Garran Surge Centre

The government is preparing to dismantle the Garran Surge Centre. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The last remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic response will start to disappear next week when the ACT Government gives up its emergency powers and prepares to dismantle the Garran Surge Centre.

This means there’ll be no need to report a positive Rapid-Antigen Test (RAT) result to ACT Health, and PCR tests will be available by referral only from 1 March 2023.

The Garran Surge Centre at the Garran Oval (opposite the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children) will permanently close from 28 February. The government says dismantling the 1700 sqm demountable and restoration of the grounds “will take time”, with no detailed timeline available at this stage.

The facility was constructed in 2020 in just 36 days at a cost of $14 million as a “temporary COVID-19 emergency department” in the wake of overwhelmed health systems overseas.

However, it was never used for that purpose and instead morphed into a vaccination clinic and walk-in clinic for people with COVID.

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ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the students at the nearby Garran Primary School can now look forward to “getting their oval back”.

“The Garran Surge Centre has served the Canberra community well, conducting more than 240,000 PCR tests throughout the pandemic and providing free RATs,” she said.

“On behalf of the entire ACT community, I would like to thank every staff member who has been involved in the set-up and operation of the Surge Centre. Healthcare staff have worked incredibly hard throughout COVID-19 to provide safe, accessible and effective testing for our community.”

In another step towards managing COVID like any other infectious disease, the ACT Government has dropped the ‘Management Declaration’.

This was implemented in May 2022 when the state of emergency expired for the last time. Under Part 6C of the Public Health Act 1997, the framework allowed the ACT’s Chief Health Officer and Health Minister to mandate COVID testing and vaccination, quarantine, mask-wearing and social distancing measures at any time.

Rachel Stephen-Smith

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith outside the Garran Surge Centre in February 2021. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The only remaining direction under the declaration requires people who test positive using a RAT to report the result to ACT Health. The ACT is the only Australian jurisdiction still to have this legal requirement, but the Chief Health Officer has concluded that it’s “no longer justified”. Canberrans are now only “strongly encouraged” to report their results.

“This is a planned step in our ongoing public health response to COVID-19 as we transition to managing COVID-19 outside of emergency arrangements,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“While our formal government emergency management mechanisms are changing, the ACT Government will continue to support Canberrans in practical ways and we encourage everyone to maintain their ‘COVID Smart’ behaviours. That includes adults getting a booster vaccination if it’s been six months or longer since their last COVID-19 booster or confirmed infection.”

From 1 March, Canberrans can collect free RATs from several ACT Government locations, including ACT Libraries (excluding the Heritage Library), Access Canberra service centres, and all Canberra Health Services facilities (hospitals, Walk-in Centres and health centres).

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The Community Services Directorate will also continue to provide free RATs for non-government organisations in line with current arrangements.

Ms Stephen-Smith said RATs are still one of the easiest and fastest ways to diagnose COVID.

“Be prepared ahead of time by having RATs at home to use if you get symptoms or are visiting a relative or friend who would be vulnerable to serious illness if they got COVID,” she said.

“Most Canberrans can use a RAT in their own home and receive a result within minutes. If you do test positive, it remains important to take the appropriate steps to look after yourself, manage your infection and protect others.”

Also from 1 March, Canberrans will need a referral from a GP or health professional to access a PCR test. The test will be free for concession card holders, with a list of participating pathology centres to go live on the ACT COVID-19 website in the coming days.

More information on these changes is available at www.covid19.act.gov.au.

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It was a useless, unnecessary, poorly conceived, hugely expensive over reaction from a habitually wasteful and dysfunctional local government. It made a lot of money for the provider, it kept a few bored medical staff in jobs, but meant the destruction and loss of playing fields, exercise and sporting facilities for the kids and residents of Garran and surrounding suburbs. Just to pander to hysterical paranoia.

The government still trades in fear.
If you apply the fear and the result of covid to climate change the result is probably not as as bad as we think. Yet we’re willing to trash or econonmy over it.

The only one that wins is China, they’re the only ones not going ‘green’.
The real issue is uncontrolled population growth in parts of the world and limited resources.

We need a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with the damage the government caused. There can be no recovery of trust until that happens.

$14 mil for a tin shed that was never used; what an abject waste of taxpayers money. Hindsight may be 20/20 but it shows what an egregious overreation Western society has had towards a virus with a 0.01% fatality rate. Lockdowns, vaccine and mask mandates, disruptions to children’s education; a whole generation lost to misinformation and fear-mongering!

Where is the supposed societal collapse in China everyone was predicting? When they finally decided to bite the bullet it was over in a matter of weeks with Western media fantasising about overrun hospitals and morgues which never eventuated. All this in a country far more populous than ours, much lower vaccine uptake, no mRNA vaccine access and no hygiene measures – when do you hear the Chinese debate air quality and “filters” in enclosed spaces? History will judge that the “let it rip” policy was the right one after all because it is how nature gets over viral outbreaks in any animal species.

swaggieswaggie8:04 pm 23 Feb 23

Maybe the Gvmt can just remediate that mountain of dirt on the eastern side of the site and give half of the area currently occupied by the building back to the school and community after regrassing and fencing off to form a small oval. . The western side needs to be turned into a short stay (up to 5 hrs) car park for the Public and National Capital Private Hospital which, if done properly, could accommodate around 200 vehicles.

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