UPDATED 2:00 pm: In welcome news for the 20,000 people the sector employs, and the many hundreds more waiting on work to be completed, Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced today that residential construction sites in Canberra may be able to reopen by the end of next week.
He said that the ACT Government is currently working with industry stakeholders to develop a COVID-safe plan which would allow residential construction to resume from Friday, 10 September.
Large-scale sites have been allowed to reopen from this Friday as other restrictions on the public health setting are also set to be relaxed. Services that operate mainly outdoors can also resume from the end of this week.
By 10 September, residential construction would have been on hold for almost a month since lockdowns began on Thursday, 12 August.
The closure of the sector has been highly controversial within the community. Senator Zed Seselja weighed in on the debate, urging the ACT Government to keep the industry open.
Senator Seselja said the construction industry had responded well to the pandemic by putting in place COVID-19 safety measures and that very few breaches had been seen.
A petition launched by the Master Builders Australia (MBA) ACT calling on the government to re-open the sector gathered more than 6,215 signatures in three days.
Today’s news has been welcomed by key industry stakeholders – the Housing Industry Association and the MBA, with HIA Executive Director Greg Weller warning that the lockdown must not extend beyond this date.
“We simply cannot go past today’s foreshadowed reopening date,” Mr Weller said.
“During the pandemic, occupations have been classified as essential or non-essential, determining whether they can work or not. Putting a roof over the heads of Canberran families is surely an essential task.”
He described the lockdown as extremely tough on the residential building industry – both its workers and those who are building homes and unable to complete them.
“Unlike many in the community who are able to work from home, when building trades are not working, they are not getting paid.
“Equally, when building trades are not out there on-site, the economic benefits of new home building and renovations for the ACT economy are lost,” he said.
Mr Weller also described the financial impact of those waiting on their homes to be completed.
He said that on average, 100 homes are completed and handed over in Canberra every month and “as a result of the extended lockdown, that means 100 families have to service a mortgage on a new home they cannot move into and continue to pay rent or a second mortgage where they live or impose on family and friends for longer than expected”.
According to Mr Weller, the HIA is now looking forward to continuing to work alongside the ACT Government to implement measures for the COVID safe operation of residential building sites from 10 September.
Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins agreed with Mr Weller, saying the MBA welcomed the announcement that small-scale construction projects may recommence on Friday, 10 September and confirmation that large-scale projects will recommence from Friday, 3 September.
“The MBA has always advocated for the safe re-opening of the entire construction industry. We know our members can do this safely and will comply with the strict safety protocols that have been developed by government and industry,” he said.
He also noted that the MBA will continue to call on the ACT Government to provide further support for building and construction businesses and their workers who have suffered significant financial and mental health loss.
A Conder primary school – Saint Claire of Assisi – has now been listed as a close contact exposure site from 8:00 am to 3:30 pm on Thursday, 26 August.
The school’s after-hours care is also listed as a casual contact site on the same day.
Universal Phone Services Canberra Centre on Monday, 23 August from 10:35 am to 11:30 am and Optus Canberra Centre on Wednesday, 25 August from 2:40 pm to 3:30 pm are also listed as casual contact sites.
New ‘monitor for symptoms’ locations have also been added.
Ainslie Village has been listed as a close contact site from 12:00 am to 11:59 am from Wednesday, 25 August to Sunday, 29 August.
12:30 pm: The ACT has reduced the effective reproduction rate of the COVID-19 virus to less than one and Chief Minister Andrew Barr says that the infection curve is bending downwards.
But as there are still unlinked cases and infectious people in the community, the Territory’s lockdown will extend a further two weeks until 5:00 pm, 17 September.
One of those is a confirmed case from Ainslie Village who can’t be found and has not yet been told they are COVID-positive.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said every effort was being made to find the person for their own wellbeing and that of others.
There are 13 new cases today of which seven are linked to current cases and sites and six are under investigation. However, only four of these were in quarantine for their entire infectious period and at least eight were at least partially in the community.
Thirteen people have been hospitalised and three remain in intensive care, including one patient on ventilation.
Mr Barr said that 3061 tests were carried out yesterday.
“We need these numbers to continue to stay above 3000 in order to have effective surveillance of where the virus is in our community,” he said.
The ACT’s transmission rate is well below one (by comparison, Sydney is well above that rate), but Mr Barr said controlling the outbreak is a slow process and will take more time.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said the outbreak now totalled 274 cases, of whom 32 have recovered. Three cases have now been linked to Ainslie Village and Dr Coleman said that the situation in vulnerable high-risk clusters and surrounding NSW had in part guided the decision to extend lockdown.
“I think the end is going to be harder than the beginning. This decision wasn’t taken lightly,” she said.
Although Canberrans overwhelmingly continue to do the right thing, the proportion of cases that are at least partially infectious in the community has risen and there were no other effective options.
There are still 29 untraced cases, 23 of which are now old cases and Dr Coleman said it’s uncertain whether a link can be established.
“Thanks to everyone who does the right thing to stop the spread across the community. Come with us for a little bit longer, I know we can get there”, she said.
Some minor amendments to public health orders will commence 5:00 pm on Friday (3 September), these include doubling outdoor hours from one to two hours each day, allowing people who work outdoors to return to work under COVID-safe requirements, and more people can now attend very small funerals and weddings.
Construction will partially re-open on Friday under strict requirements and Mr Barr said these would be enforced by ACT Policing and Worksafe. The government will continue detailed work with stakeholders so other parts of the sector, including residential, can recommence from 10 September.
The ACT Government has worked with the Commonwealth Treasurer’s office to expand business support grants. One-off grants have increased to $20,000 for employing businesses and $7500 for non-employing eligible businesses. There is no need to re-apply and Mr Barr said payments will be made in the next few days.
COVID-19 disaster payments will continue to be available to people who have lost income. Plans continue to be developed for more COVID-safe click and collect retail to take place.
The extended lockdown means that online learning will continue at ACT schools throughout Term 3. Advice regarding Term 4 will be communicated during the first week of school holidays
Around 66 per cent of people aged 16 and above have now received their first dose of vaccine and 42 per cent of the 16-plus cohort is fully vaccinated. Mr Barr said this means there are still large numbers of people at risk of serious illness, so the priority is to vaccinate as many Canberrans as quickly as possible.
UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 13 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours. Seven are linked to current exposure sites or close contacts and six are under investigation.
Only four were in quarantine during their infectious period, eight were in the community and one is under investigation.
There are 13 Canberrans in hospital with COVID-19, and three are in intensive care.
A total of 3061 tests were conducted yesterday. Chief Minister Andrew Barr said testing needed to remain above 3000 each day to ensure ACT Health had effective surveillance of the virus in the community.
Mr Barr announced that the lockdown would be extended for another two weeks until 5:00 pm, Friday, 17 September.
“Although our lockdown measures have been effective in managing the outbreak, the number of cases being notified each day, including where we are unable to identify the source of transmission, means there continues to be an important risk of COVID-19 spreading in the community,” Mr Barr said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced NSW had 1,164 new cases of COVID-19 to 8:00 pm last night.
The state also recorded three deaths – a woman in her 50s with underlying health conditions, a male in his 80s and another in his 90s.
10:00 pm: There are now more than 190 COVID-19 exposure locations listed by ACT Health, including Woolworths supermarkets at Charnwood, Woden, Conder, Kippax and Weston Creek which are casual contact sites.
Priceline Pharmacy Woden was added overnight as a close contact exposure site for Friday, 27 August from 8:50 am to 6:00 pm and Sunday, 29 August from 12:45 pm to 2:30 pm.
The Argyle Housing Ainslie Village complex is now listed as a close contact exposure site all day for Friday, 27 August; Saturday, 28 August; and Sunday, 29 August.
Costco, Kinsgley’s Chicken Kippax and Garema Place Surgery have also been listed as casual contact exposure sites.
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There are now many sites listed under the ‘monitor for symptoms’ category, including sites in Belconnen, the Inner North, the Inner South, Woden, Weston Creek and Tuggeranong.
Anyone who visited Samuiz in Belconnen, Chemist Warehouse Woden, Woolworths Kippax, Tikka Take in Braddon, Clay in Turner, the Calwell Shopping Centre, Priceline Pharmacy Tuggeranong, Grill’d Belconnen, Wokitup Kippax, Westfield Woden, Lanyon Newsagency and Gift Shop, San Churro Woden, Espresso Room Westfield Woden, Kingsley’s Chicken Westfield Woden, BP Philip, Liquorland Woden, Coffee Guru Lanyon, JAGA Swanson Court, Ampol Foodary Weston, BSW Weston Creek and Sushi Island Lanyon at the times listed on the ACT COVID-19 website must monitor for symptoms.
A decision is expected today on whether the ACT will extend the lockdown beyond Thursday, 2 September.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has previously flagged that more information surrounding future public health settings will also be provided at today’s update.
The ACT yesterday recorded 12 new cases of COVID-19, only two of which had been in quarantine for their entire infectious period. A positive case has also been recorded in the nearby NSW suburb of Googong – the source of which has yet to be identified.
Twelve COVID-19 patients are now in hospital, three of which are in intensive care. One is on a ventilator.
Eleven of those in hospital are unvaccinated, while one had received the first dose.
Mr Barr has previously held a firm stance on leaving lockdown before case numbers are low and cases have been in isolation for their entire infectious period.
Both the Chief Minister and the Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman, have expressed their concerns about low testing numbers in recent days. Only 2262 tests were carried out on Sunday, which Mr Barr said needed to increase to give health officials a better understanding of the virus in the community.