5 March 2022

Most quarantine settings likely to stay in place until winter, changes to early childhood sector flagged

| Lottie Twyford
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Childcare career

Revised health advice has been given to the early childhood education sector and will be implemented soon. Photo: File.

The ACT Government says most of the current quarantine settings are likely to remain in place throughout winter, although some reprieve is on the way for the early childhood sector.

At the moment, due to the age and vaccination status of the children in daycare and early childhood settings, a single positive COVID case attending a facility means the majority of their contacts are classified as high-risk and are subsequently required to quarantine for a full week.

This differs from the advice given to school settings where a positive COVID case in the classroom doesn’t necessarily lead to any exposure or classmates’ contacts being classified as high-risk.

It’s proved contentious for many parents who have been required to take time off work to care for their children who have been, in some cases, forced to quarantine repeatedly.

But Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said the health advice for the early childhood sector has changed to bring it largely into line with what has been provided to primary schools.

“We recognise this is a very different setting with very close contact with unmasked kids who are unvaccinated, so that’s why from the beginning of term one, we had risk assessments that were more conservative,” Dr Johnston explained.

“And now that we’ve seen that an uptick in cases in that age group doesn’t translate to serious disease, we feel much more comfortable to align the [sector’s] risk assessment with K-12.”

She couldn’t say when any changes would commence, only that the “health advice has been provided” and she expected the change to come into effect shortly.

An enhanced testing regime would likely play a part in ensuring children and educators could continue to attend the settings even if they had been in contact with a case, Dr Johnston said.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston

Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said now is not the time to lift mandatory quarantine requirements for high-risk and household contacts of positive COVID cases. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Other quarantine settings – such as the requirement to quarantine for seven days as a household or high-risk contact or positive COVID-19 case – will likely remain in place for winter.

“Understandably, there has been some public and media commentary about whether we still need quarantine rules for positive cases and household or close contacts, and certainly, we are always thinking about our settings and whether they are proportionate to the public health risk … but we do know that Omicron is highly transmissible and most transmissible to household contacts,” Dr Johnston explained.

“So, at this stage, ACT Health is not inclined to change the settings, and this is particularly true in the lead-up to winter.”

Authorities have previously said cases are expected to increase over winter since people will spend more time indoors.

However, Dr Johnston did say she would “never say never”, but the time was “not right now to do so”. She said health authorities are cognisant of the impact of current quarantine requirements on families and individuals.

READ ALSO Proposed pandemic management bill attracted record opposition from interstate and overseas

No other Australian jurisdictions have removed the requirement for close and household contacts to quarantine, but a potential relaxation is reportedly being considered by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPCC) – largely led by NSW and Victorian health officials.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he “strongly supported” going down this path.

Currently, AHPCC’s guidance allows workers in a selected few ‘critical’ industries to continue to attend work even when deemed close contacts as long as they are asymptomatic.

These changes were intended to ease workforce and supply chain issues.

The United Kingdom will soon be the first major European country to allow people who know they are infected with COVID-19 to continue going to work, going to the shops, and using public transport.

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CaptainSpiff3:43 pm 06 Mar 22

What a joke ACT Health is. High school kids currently wearing a mask all day, while almost everyone else is free to drop them. Pretending that the spread of Omicron is a public health danger. Waxing on about vaccination status while the rest of the world quietly moves on from vaccination requirements. I suppose it eludes ACT Health that Canberra, one of the most vaccinated places on earth, somehow has had a major Covid outbreak. Strange isn’t it.

But no worries, all that’s needed is a few tweaks to their “settings”.

CaptainSpiff wrote :”… the rest of the world quietly moves on from vaccination requirements”.
Try an airline site, a foreign one. They give quick access to all the in-place restrictions for foreign travel, to and fro. The only “moving on” that is occurring is that it is now assumed (as well as required barring special circumstances) that you have had two or three doses because most citizens of richer countries have. You also need verifiable RAT or PCR tests soon before boarding and soon after disembarkation. The reason? Covid-19 is a recognised public health danger, and vaccination has saved a lot of lives.
The world is moving but you are not keeping up, CaptainSpiff.

CaptainSpiff9:35 pm 06 Mar 22

You are severely misinformed, like many in the Canberra bubble. A growing number of countries do *NOT* consider Covid 19 a public health danger. In UK, Norway and Iceland for example, there are no Covid restictions *at all*. You don’t even need to quarantine after testing positive (imagine that!). Everyone is free to enter the country, whether vaccinated or not, and with no requirement to do a PCR or RAT test.

Australia is at least as vaccinated as those countries are. Yet here we are, listening to public health authorities pontificate about keeping restrictions for another 6 months. What world are they living in?

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