29 August 2021

UPDATED: AIS Arena to open as a mass vaccination hub from next week

| Lottie Twyford and Genevieve Jacobs
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The AIS Arena. Photo: Tim Gavel.

The AIS Arena will be open as a mass vaccination hub from Friday, 3 September. Photo: Tim Gavel.

UPDATED 4:00 pm: The ACT Government will open its next mass vaccination clinic at the AIS Arena on Friday, 3 September, replacing the one currently located at the Garran Surge Centre.

It’s expected the move will allow more Canberrans to access a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination faster. While it is dependent on supply, the AIS Arena will be able to deliver 24,000 vaccines every week at maximum capacity.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the ACT Government’s biggest priority over the next three months is to vaccinate as many Canberrans as possible.

He has repeatedly said his aim is for Canberra to shoot well above targets of 70 to 80 per cent of the eligible population being vaccinated.

“We are aiming for much more than that.”

ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government was putting the infrastructure and staffing capacity in place to administer as many vaccines as are being received from the Commonwealth.

Anyone with a booking at Garran from Friday, 3 September onwards will have their appointment automatically transferred to the new AIS Arena clinic at the same time in the new location, and will not be required to do anything.

“If the change in location affects your ability to attend at your current appointment time, you will be able to change your appointment from Sunday morning (29 August), either online through the MyDHR portal or by phone on 02 5124 7700,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

She asked people not to call ACT Health to change an appointment before Sunday as they won’t be able to process your request.

“The exception to this move is the Access and Sensory clinic, which will continue to operate at Garran while we work with key stakeholders on options to transfer this clinic to another location,” she added.

Some appointments on Friday morning will need to be rescheduled to facilitate the move. Those people will be contacted directly about rescheduling their appointment and given an option to have an earlier appointment if possible.

To facilitate the movement of bookings to the new clinic, online bookings will be unavailable from 8:00 pm tonight (27 August) until 8:00 am tomorrow.

Frustration is mounting for many thousands of Canberrans who were due to leave quarantine today but have yet to receive the notification allowing them to leave home.

According to some reports, despite assurances from the Minister for Health and ACT Health that more staff had been allocated to work the dedicated phone line (5124 6500), the wait times are extremely long.

Some people have reported waiting hours but not moving particularly far in the queue.

Canberra Liberals MLA Giulia Jones has said the situation was “horrible” and that the “anger was white-hot” among people who deserved to be let out of home, having complied with the quarantine requirements.

Ms Stephen-Smith this morning urged Canberrans to be patient, saying it was imperative that people did receive the notification from ACT Health prior to departing quarantine.

New casual contact exposure sites added at midday include the Gungahlin Centrelink and Medicare building on Friday, 13 August between 2:40 pm and 4:00 pm and the Belconnen Community Health Centre toilet facility between 10:20 am and 11:10 am on Friday, 20 August.

Anyone who visited the ground floor of the same centre is asked to monitor for symptoms.

Mirchi Indian Cuisine Ngunnawal and KFC Dickson are also listed as close contact exposure sites – the former on Sunday, 22 August from 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm and Monday, 23 August from 4:00 pm to 10:30 pm and the latter on Monday 23, August from 11:20 am to 4:00 pm.

UPDATED 2:15 pm: Sweeping changes to restrictions are due to come into effect at midnight tonight, and it’s likely to put an end to any Bunnings’ visits for the near future.

But restrictions are easing for non-essential small and local retail businesses, which will now be allowed to operate via a click and collect or delivery model.

Bigger businesses that have previously been classed as ‘essential’ will now have to move to the same contactless service offering.

This change will affect all businesses that sell hardware and building supplies or agricultural and rural supplies and pet stores and office supply shops.

Hardware stores will now only be accessible to tradespeople after reports of large groups of people congregating at such locations.

Despite high compliance rates with public health directions across the Territory, Chief Minister Andrew Barr today said that ACT Policing had been forced to move people on from hardware stores in particular.

In one day, he said it was particularly concerning to see 19,000 people checking into hardware stores*.

However, although large businesses are having their operations restricted, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said it was an important move to ensure the safety of staff and customers.

For small operators, there’s good news.

Businesses previously classed as non-essential will now be able to operate the same click and collect or delivery services as long as there are no more than two people on the premises at any one time.

This change applies to businesses that have 20 or fewer full-time or equivalent employees.

All other non-essential businesses that have currently been unable to operate through lockdown will also be allowed to have up to two people enter their premises for emergency purposes, for essential maintenance work, to accept deliveries that cannot be delayed or diverted, as well as to provide urgent and essential business administration services.

Gyms, health clubs and fitness centres, and dance and art schools, will also be allowed two people to the premises to film or live stream classes.

A minor relaxation of the rules has also occurred for the real estate industry, with one person now permitted to enter the property to conduct inspections required by law. One person can also attend premises to take photographs or film, so long as no one else is present.

However, neither house inspections nor auctions are permitted to take place at this time.

Canberrans who require urgent waste disposal will also be able to access waste drop-off services. These will be limited and a range of safety measures will be put in place.

Commercial waste management services can also resume, as long as these can be undertaken in a COVID-safe manner. Likewise, both commercial and domestic cleaning services can resume for urgent cleaning.

Examples include end of lease cleaning and cleaning for vulnerable people, such as NDIS clients.

The government has also announced all Access Canberra shopfronts are closed and will operate remotely.

With mounting pressure coming from the construction industry, Chief Minister Andrew Barr did today flag that if the public health situation remains stable, part of the construction sector will likely re-open in a COVID-safe way from Friday, 3 September.

He noted that the government had been engaging constructively with the construction industry over the past two weeks. A gradual re-entry would likely include construction of new roads and suburban infrastructure, fabrication, manufacturing and equipment supply.

Large construction projects on large footprints will also be allowed to re-commence with strict physical distancing requirements, including a limit of one person per four square metres. These measures will be enforced by WorkSafe and ACT police and will be subject to a final safety check midway through next week before work begins.

Further information about changes to the public health directions is expected next week, although Mr Barr has repeatedly said that a run of zero cases and no unlinked or mystery cases would be key to relaxing the current lockdown.

He’s also said that Canberra is unlikely to see a return to “normality: in the coming spring until vaccination rates are lifted.

He also said schools are unlikely to return to face-to-face learning until next term at least.

*CORRECTION: This article originally said Mr Barr referred to Bunnings. Mr Barr did not specify the hardware chain.

UPDATED 12:30 pm: Six people have been infectious in the community, and there are 21 new cases of COVID-19 in Canberra, the Chief Minister told today’s press briefing. Eleven people are now hospitalised, including a woman in her mid-forties who is critically ill, and a young child.

Fifteen cases can be linked to existing cases, the vast majority being household contacts.

But as news emerged that up to 19,000 people had been to one large hardware store in a single day, which Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said presented a major risk, the government has changed some business settings to ease conditions for small operators and manage the risk at large stores.

The changes to public health and business operation measures will be effective from midnight tonight and will apply until next Thursday, or possibly longer, depending on public health conditions.

Small retail businesses can now have a maximum of two people entering the premises to operate a local contactless delivery or click and collect service. To counterbalance this, some large essential businesses open to the public will move to similar delivery models, including hardware, pet supplies and office supplies stores.

“These amendments allow a small amount of additional activity at the small business level, but address the major issue of the most checked-in places, large format hardware stores in particular,” Mr Barr said.

There are also changes to a number of other services including real estate, cleaning, waste, and resource recovery.

The government has been engaging with the construction industry over the past two weeks, and Mr Barr said the industry was committed to enacting strict COVID-safe arrangements to allow staged re-opening of construction. A gradual re-entry will occur from Friday, 3 September, including construction on new roads and suburban infrastructure and fabrication, manufacturing and equipment supply.

Large construction projects on large footprints will also be allowed to re-commence with strict physical distancing requirements, including a limit of one person per four square metres. These measures will be enforced by WorkSafe and ACT police and will be subject to a final safety check midway through next week before work begins.

The approach to re-opening remains cautious as the ACT works towards high vaccination rates.

“This whole existence is like driving looking in the rear vision mirror”, Mr Barr said.

“What we are seeing today is the result of people’s behaviour … about a week or 10 days ago. That can provide some indication of what might happen, but we can’t be certain.

“I’m not in the business of making grandiose promises I can’t deliver. I have been really frank and honest throughout – more than most first ministers. There will be no false promises from me.”

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said teams were working hard to establish where and when people had been infectious, but the current settings mean the impact will be less than prior to lockdown.

The majority of patients are below 45 years of age and two people have now fully recovered.

Testing numbers yesterday are a little lower than expected at 3500. Dr Coleman said while this was a solid number, more people needed to come forward and there would also be more tests as people emerge from quarantine.

Some exposure sites have now been archived on the website as more than 14 days have elapsed, with a few exceptions. There are now 247 active exposure locations.

The Lyneham High cluster stands at 26 and Fiction nightclub at 34. Dr Coleman said that contact tracing had now established links between the Bright Bees cluster and several other cases that had previously been unlinked.

A vaccine supply update from National Cabinet is expected this afternoon and Mr Barr reiterated that benchmarks in the ACT will include children aged between 12 and 15 years.

Sixty per cent of Canberrans aged 12 and above have had at least one dose of vaccine and 90 per cent of 30 to 39-year-olds, identified as being at particular transmission risk, have received their first dose or are booked for one.

UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 21 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm last night, up from 14 yesterday.

Fifteen are linked and six are still under investigation. Fourteen were in quarantine during their infectious period, six were in the community and the movement of one remains under investigation.

Eleven people are hospitalised with COVID-19 and one is in intensive care in a critical condition.

Around 3500 tests were conducted yesterday, but as thousands of Canberrans are coming to the end of their quarantine period, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said this is likely to increase.

After recording more than 1000 cases yesterday, and becoming the first Australian jurisdiction to hit four-figures in 24 hours, NSW has recorded 882 new cases today. Two people also died – a man in his 60s linked to the Nepean Hospital outbreak and a man in his 90s who acquired his infection from Canterbury Hospital.

More to come.

9:45 am: ACT Health issued an apology late last night to Canberrans who had been due to leave quarantine but had not received a notification from ACT Health allowing them to do so. Many people have been expressing their frustration after having been left waiting on hold for extended periods of time.

This concern was echoed by Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith on ABC radio this morning.

Those in quarantine are currently unable to leave until they receive notification from ACT Health, and they must return a negative test at the end of their quarantine period.

From 8:00 am this morning, people who think they should be allowed to leave quarantine but have not yet heard anything from ACT Health can call the dedicated line on 5124 6500 and select option five in the menu.

Ms Stephen-Smith said more staff had been put onto this phone line to ensure things run quickly and smoothly. However, she also expected that fewer people would be calling today than in the previous days.

Ms Stephen-Smith attributed the error to a computer glitch which had not linked people’s negative test results to their records. She acknowledged they had “underestimated how many people had been affected by the issue”.

READ ALSO What I’ve learned from lockdown 2.0

According to Ms Stephen-Smith, it should have been an automatic process which linked the results to a person’s records, and then people should have been sent an automatic result.

“The team is still working through exactly what happened and why things didn’t work in the way in the way they were intended to,” she said.

On Wednesday (25 August), ACT Health set up a dedicated phone line for people to call to deal with this issue after feedback began to filter through that the automated process was not working as intended.

However, when the phone line was opened, Ms Stephen-Smith described a “flood” of calls coming through from people who had not received any information about leaving quarantine.

She said the team has been working quickly to rectify the issue and that most people have now been contacted.

READ ALSO PM’s phoney COVID war more about the election than ending lockdowns

Last night, around 7,000 people received an email releasing them from quarantine and ACT Health staff worked quickly to stand up a new process to allow them to directly send through their own proof of negative test results to ACT Health.

Ms Stephen-Smith said around 1,500 people chose to do so, and 850 people have already been released from 5:00 am this morning (27 August).

She also clarified that in the case of a primary close contact and household secondary, only the primary contact will be contacted. When they can leave quarantine, so can the rest of the household.

Exposure sites added late last night include popular ice creamery Messina in Braddon on Sunday, 22 August, from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm.

Anyone who visited Haig Park on the same day from 4:15 pm to 5:30 pm is asked to monitor for symptoms. The same advice applies to people who visited Priceline Pharmacy in Tuggeranong from 10:00 am to 10: 45 am on Monday, 23 August.

ACT Health has now identified more than 420 exposure sites in the ACT.

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Just allow all to get their shots. Having ‘special’ groups get priority is a joke.

End discrimination. Everyone should be able to access the same vaccines.

The ACT Government should be opening up MORE sites for vaccinations, not closing Garran and transferring those bookings to Belconnen!

This is a stupid decision and I hope Ken Behrens let them know about it!

The Garran site is being closed so it can return to being the dedicated COVID hospital ward it was originally built for. It isn’t stupid, it is great planning ahead.

So it was ok for northern people to go to south to a facility that isn’t that easily accessible from northern locations.

But not ok for southerns to travel the same distance many northerners had to do to get to a facility that is significantly more accessible being right off the main north/south road and also on a rapid bus route.

I dread to think what you would think of Sydney where the MAIN centre is at Olympic Park.

Spot on. This is such a sensible decision.

Judy Elferkh4:25 pm 27 Aug 21

Why as a southside person can’t we access a Vaccination hub on the southside? While I will do the 1 hour round trip it still leaves the question why not a southside site?

Prior to this why as a Northsider did we have to travel to the south or to the airport (which is just as far away for many) to access the only government run Pfizer clinics? Bruce may be further for the south but soo too is Garran is for the north.

Simple fact Canberra isn’t that big and this north/south dross gets tiresome.

Yes, it’s closer from South Tuggeranong to Garran than it is from Gungahlin.

The AIS is a good location for this.

IF you’ve been eligible for a vaccination for a long while, which I’m betting you were. You would have been able to get vaccinated in the south of the ACT. I had my 2nd shot just a few weeks ago, here in Kambah.

Frankly I am tired of hearing this kind of whining from people. They have been sufficinet shots throughout the ACT for a long while.

Our son was offered Garran or Calvary as his option for Pfizer.
Living in Tuggeranong and not owning a car, he opted for Garran.
Closing Garran is a backwards step. We need MORE sites across Canberra, that are readily accessible, not a super site!

That’s not right. Your son would not have been offered Calvary to get Pfizer. Calvary is Astra Zeneca only.

Other than Garran the only other government centre offing Pfizer is at Majura Park.

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