UPDATED 2:45 pm: An emotional Chief Minister Andrew Barr has defended the cautious approach of his government to handling the COVID-19 lockdown and not wanting to raise false hopes about when specific restrictions will be eased.
Mr Barr was yet again pressed on providing more detail about the ACT’s path out of lockdown, responding that as he had told journalists every day this week there would be more information next week at the mid-lockdown checkpoint.
But when laying out the ACT’s objectives for vaccinating the population as quickly as possible while keeping case numbers and hospitalisations low, with no deaths, he expressed how seriously he took the responsibility of keeping Canberrans safe.
“I don’t want to stand at this podium and give glib ‘this many people died today’ like some of my other colleagues have to,” he said.
“It’s just distressing for everyone, and we can do better, and we can vaccinate our community.
“I’ve been criticised, there’s a couple of journalists here running that line, but maybe I just have a high value on human life and protecting people. I’ll plead guilty to that.”
Mr Barr said it was frustrating for vaccine supply to still be an issue when the ACT had the most efficient program in the nation for getting vaccines into people’s arms.
The ACT is among jurisdictions facing disruption to Pfizer supplies this month, hindering its plans to ramp up its program at mass vaccination clinics.
The next available booking at a clinic is 11 October, but Mr Barr said the arrival this week of the Moderna vaccine at pharmacies, combined with the plentiful AstraZeneca supply, meant that might be a quicker pathway for some, depending on their circumstances and age.
“It might be that those people booked in for the first weeks of October might find they could get a Moderna vaccine from a pharmacy today or this week,” Mr Barr said.
It would also speed up getting the second shot, as Moderna has a four-week dosing interval, not much longer than Pfizer’s three weeks.
Mr Barr also vowed to fight so the ACT got its fair share of vaccines and could come out of lockdown safely.
“What I am determined to see is as many have the opportunity to get vaccinated as possible, and I’ll fight hard for this jurisdiction to get access to the vaccines that are necessary to achieve that goal,” he said.
“I want the ACT to have the highest vaccination rate in the nation, and I believe we will. I strongly believe we must allow 12 to 15 year-olds the opportunity to get vaccinated, and we’re not making rash decisions that will leave that section of the community at risk.”
Meanwhile, Acting Chief Health Officer Vanessa Johnston has confirmed more cases at social housing sites.
According to information received by Region Media, the sites are Windeyer Court in Watson, Reid Court in Reid, and Cossington Gardens in North Lyneham.
It is believed that there are six cases at Windeyer Court, but Dr Johnston would only confirm that ACT Health was investigating several cases “associated” with that site, and they were not necessarily residents.
She said some were in a household, but to date, “we’re not convinced there is transmission at that site”. The cases were not included in today’s figures.
There was testing going on at Reid Court but she was not aware of any cases there.
Overall, ACT Health was not seeing the level of transmission that was evident at Ainslie Village.
Dr Johnston said not all people were advised of the situation to protect individual privacy where cases were not connected.
UPDATED 12:30 pm There are 16 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT to 8:00 pm last night. Despite most being household contacts, none were in quarantine during their entire infectious period.
Seven cases are linked and there are 12 people in hospital, including some from surrounding NSW, a trend that Chief Minister Andrew Barr said is likely to continue. Two people are in intensive care and both require ventilation.
Moderna vaccine has now arrived in the ACT in “significant quantities” and is available through pharmacies.
Mr Barr said it was likely this could now be the fastest way for 12 to 59-year-olds to get vaccinated. Less than a third of 16 to 39-year-olds are fully vaccinated, although 80 per cent of the ACT’s 40-plus population have had both shots.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said the outbreak now totals 674 cases, of whom 211 are active cases. Four of the new cases were essential workers who were infectious in the community.
“It’s important to remember that the time people spend infectious in the community varies and the risk varies by the nature of their activities, whether they are wearing a mask and other factors,” Dr Johnston said.
“We take a particularly conservative approach on this as we work towards our vaccination goals.”
She confirmed that the current active exposure list includes medical centres, noting that as with supermarkets and other essential sites, there is always a possibility that someone is unknowingly infectious when leaving home for approved reasons.
Busy Bees and Ainslie Village are now the only active public transmission sites after Bidfood was removed from the list.
A total of 2675 tests were carried out yesterday and Mr Barr reiterated the urgent need for people with any symptoms to come forward for testing rather than waiting “days and days” to get tested.
ACT and NSW police have now been joined by ADF personnel working at border checkpoints.
Mr Barr said 2000 traffic stops were carried out yesterday.
“You should not be moving across the border unless you have an essential reason for travel. Now is not the time for a trip into NSW,” he said.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the health workforce had been boosted through a pandemic callout, resulting in more than 1500 applications. So far, 600 extra staff have come on board. A further 40 nursing staff are coming on board over the next week.
People on the remaining list will support surge capacity if necessary.
Fewer than 50 health staff are now furloughed across the ACT’s public hospitals and Calvary Public staff. The Weston Creek Walk-in Centre has now returned to usual health service operations.
Ms Stephen-Smith confirmed that there has been COVID-19 exposure at some health facilities, adding that these facilities have extensive COVID safe plans in place to minimise risk, including identifying impacted staff and patients and deep cleaning.
Front-line staff wear full PPE at all times, including face shields and masks, and the Minister said that anyone working on a COVID-19 ward is fully vaccinated.
In partnership, the ACT Government and Commonwealth will provide free training and short courses in infection control to keep workers and customers safe. Mr Barr said this will support safe and gradual re-opening by giving workers in retail, hospitality and personal services nationally accredited training on COVID-safe operations.
The Chief Minister said the job trainer program is a way to meet workforce challenges as the ACT emerges from the pandemic, describing it as “a huge opportunity” to re-open the economy in a COVID-safe way.
Today is the International Day for signed language, and Mr Barr and Ms Stephen-Smith thanked Auslan translators Sheree, Lauren and Mandy who have been present at every COVID briefing. Mr Barr said they had provided “vital support to our deaf community”.
UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 16 new cases of COVID-19, in line with the seven-day rolling average for the Territory.
Yesterday we had 17 new cases.
Seven cases are linked and the remainder are under investigation.
None of today’s cases were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period. At least 11 were in the community while infectious.
Twelve people are in hospital with COVID – including two patients from NSW – and two are in intensive care on ventilation.
More than 2720 tests were conducted, and over 2000 traffic stops were conducted yesterday.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr reminded the community that no one should be crossing the border unless they have a valid excuse.
Over 3000 first doses were administered at ACT Government mass vaccination clinics yesterday.
NSW has recorded 1063 new COVID cases and six deaths.
Yesterday there were 1035 cases and five deaths.
In Victoria, 766 cases were reported. Yesterday, 628 new cases and three deaths.
9:50 am: A southside pizza bar has been named a close contact exposure site this morning by ACT Health.
The entry into Little Theo’s in Kambah is listed for last Friday between 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm and Saturday from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm.
It is the only close contact site, but a number of casual contact sites on both sides of town are listed, including supermarkets, bus routes, a community centre and a health clinic.
Woolworths supermarkets at the Calwell Shopping Centre on Monday between 4:40 pm and 5:30 pm, Lanyon Marketplace in Conder on Sunday between 6:10 pm and 6:55 pm, Westfield Belconnen on Sunday between 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm, Erindale on Sunday between 10:00 am and 11:00 am, and Kambah from last Friday between 2:30 pm and 3:20 pm have all been listed as casual or monitor for symptoms sites.
The ALDI supermarket in Lanyon Marketplace also is named a casual exposure site on Sunday between 5:45 pm and 6:45 pm.
Southside bus routes named are Route 5 from Calwell Shops to Wanniassa Park & Ride on Tuesday, 14 September from 5:25 pm to 5:57 pm; and Route 4 from Wanniassa Park & Ride to the City Interchange on the same day from 6:03 pm to 6:26 pm.
On the north side, two services are listed: Route 41 from Belconnen Interchange to Charnwood Shops on Tuesday, 14 September from 7:35 pm to 7:48 pm; and Route 2 from City Interchange to Belconnen Interchange on the same day from 6:30 pm to 6:48 pm.
The National Health Co-op clinic at Evatt is listed from Monday, 13 September from 9:40 am to 10:45 am, while the 7-Eleven store in Melba is named from Tuesday, 14 September between 2:50 pm and 3:40 pm.
The Community Pantry at Communities@Work Tuggeranong in Greenway is listed from Wednesday, 15 September between 2:00 pm and 3:05 pm.
Check the COVID website for full details.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the government is working towards an announcement by the middle of next week detailing how the ACT might ease restrictions as vaccination rates reach their 70 and 80 per cent thresholds.
“How do we ease restrictions so that the number of cases that we have is manageable for us to be able to maintain our contact tracing, test trace, isolate and quarantine capacity sufficiently so that we don’t see a significant increase in cases, and what does that mean for our health system capacity as well?” she told ABC radio.
Ms Stephen Smith said the government wants to give people a clear picture of what may happen, but forecasting in such a small jurisdiction was complicated.
She acknowledged that suppressing the virus to achieve zero cases as Queensland has done was unlikely, and the aim was to have any new cases in quarantine during the infectious period.
COVID zero was extraordinarily difficult to achieve with the highly infectious Delta variant, she said.