UPDATED 3:00 pm: Year 12 students have been given the green light to return to school at the start of Term 4, ready to sit their AST exams in mid-October, but school will definitely not be ‘normal’.
Year 11s will return to school on Monday, 18 October.
Preschool to year 10 will continue remote learning for at least the first four weeks of Term 4, but discussions will take place in the coming weeks regarding what a staged return to face-to-face learning could look like.
Today’s announced returns to school will depend on the ongoing COVID-19 situation in the ACT.
While Mr Barr acknowledged that all year 12s will not have full protection against COVID-19 because of the time required for double dosing and then the two week period during which the vaccine becomes effective, he said many within this cohort would have some protection.
He said there will be COVID-safe protocols in place and, because it is a small cohort, the risks can be better managed. One of these changes is likely to be less of a focus on classroom work and more on preparation for the ASTs in the coming week, he said.
Education Minister Yvette Berry confirmed that having fewer students at schools will make it easier to physically distance, and it may allow for having students spread across multiple rooms for their ASTs.
Mr Barr reiterated that a vaccine will not be made mandatory for either students or teachers at this point, but he said there is currently a priority vaccination program in place for teachers that has experienced a strong take-up.
Around 4,000 year 12 students have already booked or had appointments for jabs through the ACT Government mass vaccination clinics.
Despite the fact that there is no vaccine currently available to children aged under 12 years, Mr Barr said the ACT Government’s decision not to allow younger cohorts back to school is based on epidemiological advice which he said suggests that unless the broader population around the children is vaccinated, the virus can still spread.
Speaking at today’s midday press conference, Mr Barr said the Lyneham High cluster had demonstrated how the virus travelled within school groups as it had been transmitted between students and then onto their parents.
The cluster of cases related to the school is currently the third-largest in the Territory’s outbreak, with a total of 46 cases having been linked to the school.
He also noted the heightened risk of plunging entire school communities into quarantine, given the size of such cohorts, and the impact that would be likely to have on the Territory’s essential services.
Education Minister Yvette Berry said she understood the frustrations faced by families and could relate to them personally, with two school-aged children of her own.
“I know that we all want to see a return to some kind of normality.”
She said vaccination thresholds for students aged 12 to 15 years will be “just one of the elements taken into account by the Chief Health Officer” when it comes to those further discussions around the re-opening of schools.
Childcare, early childhood education services and before and after school services will remain open to children of essential workers for the next four weeks. Specialist schools will also remain open.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith confirmed that around 170 doses of vaccine were discarded yesterday after the ‘technical issues’ at the mass vaccination hub led to long queues and some people needing to reschedule their appointments.
Canberra Liberals MLA Giulia Jones said yesterday’s events at the AIS were a complete mess, and today’s announcement was disappointing given a roadmap was expected.
The Canberra Liberals called it a “roadmap to nowhere”.
Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said that it had been unacceptable to announce a four-week extension to lockdown, with very few changes to restrictions and financial support.
“Thousands of Canberra businesses are yet to receive a cent from the ACT Government and over four weeks into a lockdown, this is beyond unacceptable. It is cruel,” she said.
She also said that parents and teachers are now no closer to seeing certainty or a long-term plan for the vast majority of our students returning to the classroom.
New locations have this afternoon been added to the ACT’s COVID-19 exposure site list.
7-Eleven in Mawson is now listed as a casual contact exposure site for Saturday, 11 September from 12:25 pm to 1:30 pm as is Woolworths Woden on Saturday, 11 September from 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm and on Friday, 10 September from 2:45 pm to 3:45 pm.
Check the full updated list of exposure sites, including ‘monitor for symptoms’ locations at the ACT Government COVID-19 website.
UPDATED 12:40 pm: The ACT will endure four more weeks of lockdown until 15 October as COVID-19 cases continue to stubbornly multiply and a significant number of new cases remain infectious in the community.
“I know this isn’t the news a lot of you wanted to hear today,” Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said at today’s press briefing.
There were 22 new cases overnight, 14 of which are linked to current exposure sites. But only two cases were in quarantine during their entire infectious period and at least 13 spent part of their infectious period in the community. Ten people are hospitalised, two in intensive care and one is being ventilated.
“We will do our best to contain this virus,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr said. “It’s not a choice between a good option and bad options; it’s a choice about what’s least worst.”
He said the alternative pathway to continuing lockdown is tens of thousands of cases and “more despair and misery”.
Dr Coleman said there have been eight different infection incursions into the ACT, 50 cases whose origins are still unlinked to known cases or sites of transmission, and that number was not decreasing.
“That number of cases suggest potential unidentified chains of transmission in the community posing risks for the unvaccinated. Public health and social measures are the only way we can reduce the risk of unidentified chains of transmission,” she said.
The median case is a 26-year-old male and Dr Coleman said 82 per cent of positive cases were unvaccinated, consistent with the other two jurisdictions with outbreaks. The effective reproduction rate (ERR) is holding at one, but two-thirds of the ACT’s cases have been infectious in the community.
“Extending these restrictions that limit your ability to move freely around the ACT is not the decision we wanted to make but the one we had to make at this point in time,” Dr Coleman said, pleading with Canberrans to stay the course and protect the community.
Mr Barr said that the path forward is also complicated by the growing number of COVID-19 cases in neighbouring areas.
“NSW has been problematic for the nation and incredibly problematic for the ACT, given we sit wholly within that state and we are seeing incursions of the virus from the greater Sydney area.
“We have been at risk from NSW, we are at risk from NSW, and we’ll continue to be at risk from NSW in the weeks and months ahead. Our objective is to get as close to zero as possible. Today has not been a good day on that performance objective.”
Mr Barr said there would be minor changes to public health directions to allow for increased COVID-safe small business operations, including contactless click and collect, limited private appointments for real estate viewing and some additional outdoor activities, including golf and tennis.
A midpoint review will be conducted in two weeks’ time.
Business and community financial support measures are being extended and expanded. Tax and commercial rates relief has been doubled and extended to December. Utility concessions of $1000 are available for the 31,000 most vulnerable ACT households.
Mr Barr said there would be further financial support and disaster payments announcements made shortly in conjunction with the Commonwealth. Additional announcements are also expected regarding mental health and community services. The next ACT budget will be delivered on 6 October with further investments in community support.
There will be limited returns to school during Term 4, beginning with Year 12 students on 5 October and Year 11 students from Week Three, commencing Monday, 18 October.
Students from pre-school to Year 10 will continue remote learning for at least the first four weeks of Term Four, although the plan continues to be a return to face-to-face teaching at some time during the final term.
Mr Barr said high levels of vaccination in the Territory would support a safer pathway forward for the ACT, especially as the virus spreads through our community and across the Canberra region.
The national 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination milestones are likely to be met from mid-October onwards, driven by NSW, Victoria and the ACT which represent 60 per cent of the national population.
“This next month is a period of uncertainty, and the next few weeks will be challenging but what we are certain of is that a highly vaccinated Canberra is a safer Canberra,” Mr Barr said.
“That will lead to a safer Christmas, safer holidays and a safer 2022.”
UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has 22 new cases of COVID-19.
Of the 22 new cases, 14 are linked to current exposure sites or close contacts, eight are under investigation.
Only two of the 22 were in quarantine for all of their infectious period. At least 13 were infectious in the community.
Yesterday, the ACT recorded 13 new cases.
There are currently 10 people in hospital and two in intensive care. One person requires ventilation.
Yesterday, 3721 tests were conducted giving a good level of surveillance for the virus in the community.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr also announced that the ACT’s lockdown will be extended for four weeks to 11:59 pm on 15 October. A checkpoint will be undertaken after two weeks.
In NSW 1127 new cases were recorded. A woman in her 80s and a man in his 50s – both from western Sydney – died in NSW in the last 24 hours. They had each received one dose of a COVID vaccine.
Victoria has announced 445 new cases and two deaths.
10:00 am: Supermarkets and other essential retail have once again dominated the new exposure sites listed overnight by ACT Health. This comes as Chief Minister Andrew Barr is today expected to provide detailed information on the ACT’s outbreak and plans for the next few weeks.
While no new close contact exposure locations were added to the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website, several new casual contact sites have been listed.
Woolworths Metro at Franklin has been named a casual contact site for Saturday, 4 September between 2:20 pm and 3:30 pm.
Woolworths Mawson is a casual contact exposure site on Thursday, 9 September from 6:15 pm to 7:20 pm, Friday, 10 September from 3:15 pm to 4:00 pm and Saturday, 11 September from 5:15 pm to 6:15 pm.
Capital Chemist Mawson is also a casual contact site on Saturday, 11 September from 12:35 pm to 1:45 pm.
Molonglo Dental Surgery also appears repeatedly. It’s a casual contact exposure location on Wednesday, 8 September from 9:50 am to 3:30 pm, Thursday, 9 September from 9:20 am to 4:00 pm and Friday, 10 September from 9:50 am to 10:45 am.
In Canberra’s north, Amcal+ Pharmacy Belconnen is listed as a casual contact site on Wednesday, 8 September from 9:10 am to 10:25 am and ALDI Amaroo is on Saturday, 11 September from 10:30 am to 11:00 am.
Casual contacts must complete the ACT Contact Declaration Form, immediately quarantine and get tested in line with ACT Health requirements. The number of mandated tests a casual contact is required to undergo varies depending on how long ago the exposure site was visited.
More than 25 additional ‘monitor for symptoms’ locations have been listed overnight in Belconnen, Charnwood, Wanniassa, Fyshwick, Narrabundah, Hawker, Yarralumla, Mawson, Amaroo, Holt and Gungahlin.
Most of the listed businesses in this category are supermarkets, shopping centres, bottle shops, petrol stations, post offices and chemists.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr is expected to provide a detailed ‘roadmap’ of the public health settings for the next few weeks in the Territory.
Yesterday, 13 new cases of COVID-19 were announced, with 10 confirmed to have been infectious in the community for at least some time.
He’s resisted pressure to reveal what exactly this plan might look like, although he did hint last week and again over the weekend that further clarity will be provided around schooling arrangements for term four.
Yesterday, the Universities Admissions Centre (UAC) announced that the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) for 2021 NSW HSC students will be released at 9:00 am on Thursday, 20 January 2022.
The ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies (BSSS) mirrored this announcement for ACT students. In a statement released by the BSSS chair Roberta McRae, it was noted that university offers for ACT and NSW students are processed simultaneously.
“The later release of rankings will not affect University applications through UAC as they are processed in the same way and at the same time for all students,” it read.
The ACT Scaling Test is currently scheduled to go ahead on Tuesday, 12 October and Wednesday, 13 October.
With school holidays set to begin this weekend, parents, students and school communities are hoping for further clarity around what next term may look like.
Master Builders CEO Michael Hopkins is renewing calls for the ACT Government to allow construction workers to enter the ACT from low-risk areas in NSW.
He said he has written to the Chief Minister to request these changes, citing a need for specialist tradespeople to enter the ACT to complete some jobs.
This comes as the NSW Government reimposed stay-at-home orders in Yass after the region recorded its first positive case in over a year. Residents had only a short period of freedom after the initial lockdown was lifted over the weekend.
The AIS mass vaccination hub experienced long queues yesterday. Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said one factor was someone programming next week’s appointments into yesterday’s schedule.
“The team was drawing up the vaccines out of the vials into the syringes had been enthusiastically drawing up a lot of vaccine to ensure that they could get through all the additional people … they actually ended up with a bit of excess supply having been drawn down into the syringes,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
The excess of vaccines resulted in people being called back late at night to come and get vaccinated.
Speaking on ABC Radio this morning, Ms Stephen-Smith said the team has not yet determined if any vaccine had been wasted.