UPDATED 2:30 pm: The ACT will take a cautious approach to easing restrictions and reopening its economy, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr warning that getting on top of the current outbreak does not mitigate the risk of a future one.
Mr Barr said he still did not have an answer as to whether the Territory’s lockdown would need to be extended in line with regional NSW – which will now remain under lockdown until 10 September – with around a third of all new cases being infectious in the community for some period of time.
The current lockdown is scheduled to end on Thursday, 2 September.
“It is a question everyone wants an answer to, I do not have an answer today,” Mr Barr said.
“We need to analyse and find out more about the six cases (that were infectious in the community). We need to see what tomorrow’s figures look like and what Monday’s figures look like.
“What I have said many times is that we are most interested not in the headline case number but in the number (of people) infectious in the community.”
Household and workplace contacts are a major source of transmission in the ACT, which has resulted in the ACT Government taking the cautious approach to reopening businesses and industries to avoid an exponential increase in exposure locations.
Mr Barr said that while the horse had bolted in Sydney as the daily case number surpassed the 1000 mark for the second time today (28 August), the current measures in the ACT remain in place to contain the virus and allow for a staged reopening of businesses in a COVID-safe manner.
“We know that is a difficult message for businesses at the moment and some are very unhappy,” he said.
“I understand that but we are not putting in place these measures because we feel like it, we are putting them in place to stop this outbreak from getting any worse, to contain it and get back to a position where people can trade and operate freely.”
The Government will assess the current level of restrictions early next week as the Territory approaches another lockdown checkpoint where Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman will advise the Government about the path forward.
The easing of any restrictions will be based on the virus’ transmissibility over the next week but Mr Barr repeated that the ACT was “not yet in a position to do anything further than what we have done”.
“Everything you do to ease up restrictions or increase the movement of people or see more people interact increases the risk of new exposure sites and new chains of transmission.
“That is what we need to balance. You would be insane not to learn the lessons of what has happened all around Australia and all around the world.”
Dr Coleman said she was comfortable with the current situation – where the source of 16 cases remains unknown, six of which were only recorded overnight – as the number of new infections plateaued over the previous few days.
Case numbers were expected to rise initially due to the high number of exposure locations before plateauing and eventually beginning to fall.
Dr Coleman said the focus remains on reducing the number of people who are infectious in the community.
UPDATED 12:30 pm: There are 26 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT. Of these 20 are linked to existing cases, the majority of them household contacts, and six are under investigation.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman sounded a note of warning at today’s press briefing on the level of testing in the ACT as 2937 tests were carried out yesterday. “Our numbers were lower than I’m used to seeing over the last week or two,” she said.
On average one third of all new cases are still infectious in the community and Dr Coleman said that while a plateau effect was anticipated as household contacts are infected, controlling public transmission is a key aim.
From the total outbreak of 237 cases, four have fully recovered. Ten people are in hospital and although one has recovered enough to return home, a woman remains critically ill. Nine of the hospitalised patients were unvaccinated and one had received their first dose.
Contact tracing has enabled 221 cases from the outbreak to be linked to existing cases or known clusters. Forty-five cases are now linked to the Fiction nightclub outbreak, 18 cases linked to Lennock Jaguar and the Mirchi Indian restaurant is a new cluster with three cases.
Dr Coleman noted that not all cases are directly acquired from an exposure site but from onward transmission by close contacts, many of them household contacts.
Sixteen cases are still unlinked including those under early investigation and there is still no confirmation of how the apparent index case was infected.
The ACT government is preparing to open a new mass vaccination hub at the AIS Arena on Friday and Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that 60,000 appointments booked at Garran would now transfer to the hub. The change would enable the government to substantially increase the vaccination delivery because of the facility’s size.
Social media, the ACT government website, local media and text messages would all be used to advise people of the change. Bookings at the airport clinic remain unchanged.
“Our objective is to get as many people vaccinated as possible using all available vaccines and distribution points… in order to achieve that goal,” Mr Barr said.
Canberra will receive Moderna vaccine in late September after National Cabinet approved its distribution across the country on a per capita basis. It will initially be available in the ACT through pharmacies. Additional Pfizer supplies will also be available at GPs in October and November.
“The vaccination effort and program doesn’t stop at 80 per cent – it continues on until we have vaccinated every single Canberran who wants to get vaccinated,” Mr Barr said.
The Chief Minister added that most people waiting for a call from ACT Health to leave quarantine had been reached and that there were now hundreds, rather than thousands, waiting for contact.
He clarified that the 19,000 people who had attended Bunnings stores on one day during lockdown had been distributed across the ACT and acknowledged that the environment for business was “very challenging”, particularly for those in sectors like tourism where demand had already been reduced pre-lockdown.
Mr Barr said there would be three challenging months ahead as the Government attempts to balance public health demands with ensuring that some kind of economic activity can take place. Decisions around the ACT lockdown would also be partially influenced by the epidemiology of the regional NSW and Sydney outbreaks.
“I know this is a difficult message for some business to hear and some are very unhappy”, he said.
“We are putting these measures in place to stop this outbreak from getting any worse, to contain it so people can operate and trade freely. The alternative is months and months and months of cases with the thousand in front of them like NSW”.
While restrictions had eased slightly to enable people to undertake some household duties including disposing of their rubbish, Canberrans should be patient and anticipate COVID-safe marshalling conditions at public sites.
“The idea is not that everybody goes to the tip this weekend. You don’t need to go today unless you really need to be there today…and if you do turn up you could be waiting a very long time,” the Chief Minister said.
UPDATED 11:45 am: There are 26 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT. Of these, 20 are linked to existing cases and six are under investigation. 10 people are hospitalised including a woman who remains in a critical condition in intensive care. One person was released from hospital overnight.
More to come.
9:25 am: Almost 50 new exposure locations have been added overnight including the Services Australia building in Greenway, two supermarkets in Casey and the Belconnen Community Health Centre.
Anyone on level four of the Services Australia building at 57 Athllon Drive on Monday (23 August) between 8 am and 5 pm or Tuesday (24 August) between 8 am and 2 pm are considered casual contacts.
People who were in the building during the same time periods but not on level four have been told to monitor for symptoms.
Centrelink and Medicare at 5 Fussell Lane in Gungahlin on Friday 13 August between 2:40 pm and 4:00 pm are considered to be casual contact sites.
ALDI Casey between 5:35 pm and 7:45 pm on Sunday (22 August) or at Supabarn Casey between 5:10 pm and 6:15 pm on the same day are also considered to be casual contact sites.
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Supabarn has also been listed as a casual exposure site between 5:20 pm and 6:15 pm the following day, while people at ALDI, Priceline or 7-Eleven at the Casey Market town at various times on Monday (23 August) and Tuesday (24 August) need to monitor for symptoms.
People at the toilet facility on the ground floor of the Belconnen Community Health Centre between 10:20 am and 11:10 am on Friday (20 August) are considered casual contacts while people who were on the ground floor during the same time period are being told to monitor for symptoms.
A full list of exposure locations can be found at www.covid19.act.gov.au.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith and ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman will provide an update on the ACT’s COVID-19 situation at 11:45 am.
More to come.