9 September 2021

UPDATED: 'Vaccination passports' a solution waiting for a problem, says Barr

| Ian Bushnell and Genevieve Jacobs
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at today’s COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

UPDATED 2:30 pm: The ACT isn’t about to use the QR code in the Check In CBR app or a vaccine passport or ‘health pass’ to bestow privileges on vaccinated residents, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said at today’s COVID-19 briefing.

Mr Barr explained that the ACT’s high vaccination take-up, technical challenges, and human rights position meant the government was not considering that type of approach to ensure people were protected enough to move freely about the Territory.

He could understand why other jurisdictions may pursue this option in a bid to drive up vaccination rates but said it would be crazy to do this in the ACT.

“This is a solution waiting for a problem,” Mr Barr said, saying people could already download a vaccination certificate from Medicare to their phone.

Mr Barr said getting people to be vaccinated was not a problem in the ACT where the only issue is enough supply of vaccine, and where the rate will likely be 90 to 95 per cent.

He said the difference between 70 per cent and 80 per cent double dose vaccination was about 37,000 vaccinations or about five days’ worth of jabs.

“Why would we go through the entire rigmarole of putting in place such a complex set of systems with fraud risks, the compliance nightmare associated with it, for the sake of five days’ extra vaccine,” he said.

Mr Barr said the ACT was not about to give greater freedoms to fully vaccinated people when others had not had the opportunity to do so because of a lack of supply.

As a matter of principle, the ACT would never deny access to essential services or exclude people when there will be a variety of reasons why some people cannot get vaccinated.

Mr Barr said the government was not going to be a vaccination policeman, and if some businesses did require proof of vaccination from customers, the government was not going add another layer of compliance on the business.

He said there was a vaccination requirement in aged care settings and some sort of health pass might be considered in particular workplace settings but there would be no vaccination decree from government.

Mr Barr said a downloaded vaccination certificate could be linked to interstate apps for interstate travel but that was a matter for those governments.

Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at the COVID briefing this morning. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

UPDATED 12.30 pm: There are 15 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT to 8:00 pm last night. Of these, 13 are linked, two are under investigation and five were in quarantine during their entire infectious period.

There are nine hospital patients and two people are in intensive care, including one at Calvary on ventilation.

“The next eight weeks are a race to get as many people fully vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr told today’s COVID-19 briefing.

“We can ease public health restrictions as the vaccination rate increases. We will need to maintain many public health measures for weeks ahead.”

The ACT Government’s next steps will be outlined on Tuesday (14 September), but Mr Barr characterised the use of vaccine passports, designed to encourage people to be vaccinated, as “a solution looking for a problem”.

“The only thing holding us back from 95 per cent vaccination is available vaccine supply. We don’t need a QR code and vaccine passport to drive up vaccination rates. That’s not an issue in the ACT,” he said.

A number of neighbouring NSW Local Government Areas including Yass Valley will come out of lockdown this weekend. Mr Barr said the changed regulations would be one of the risk factors the ACT Government would assess with regard to our own restrictions, but local public health conditions will be the more significant consideration.

“A word of caution would be that the virus is circulating in surrounding Local Government Areas and the ACT. If you’re watching from Yass, I wouldn’t be advising moving too far out of your LGA.”

A total of 3432 tests were carried out yesterday, providing a good level of surveillance across the Territory.

Mr Barr said that ACT Policing, WorkSafe and Access Canberra were pleased with business compliance, although there are still issues around staff checking in to work.

In residential aged care, 92 per cent of staff have received their first dose of vaccine and 90 per cent of residents are fully vaccinated.

Within the next 24 hours, the ACT will reach 50 per cent full vaccination rates. Mr Barr urged everyone in priority categories to come forward for vaccination.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said the outbreak now totals 439 cases of whom 212 have recovered fully. Of the 13 traced cases, eight are household contacts. There is very little change to the age breakdown of COVID patients – the virus remains predominantly active among those below 44.

There are no additional public transmission sites; however, one new case has been linked to the Bright Bees early learning centre.

There is one new case linked to Bidfood at Fyshwick and three more at the Busy Bees childcare centre. Three previous cases have now been linked to Ainslie Village as a result of the surveillance testing carried out there.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith spoke about the new features on the Check In CBR app, which now includes exposure alerts and whether a site is a close or casual contact.

There is also a new Check In CBR card with a unique QR code that can be scanned using an individual business profile. Check-in information will be stored with ACT Health, like data from the app. This card will be available for those who cannot use the app on their phones. Details are on the COVID-19 website or by calling 5124 5000.

Ms Stephen-Smith noted that some people who have been unwell for days but haven’t been tested are presenting at emergency departments. While COVID can be safely managed at emergency departments, this presents a risk for more people.

“You may become quite unwell quite quickly. COVID is highly variable. It can be mild or severe and that can happen fast. The earlier we know, we can support you and protect our community,” she said.

UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 15 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm last night.

Of the cases, 13 are linked and two are under investigation.

Five were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period but at least eight spent part of their infectious period in the community.

There are currently nine people in hospital with COVID-19, two are in intensive care and one requires ventilation.

Yesterday there were 3432 tests conducted, which Chief Minister Andrew Barr said gave a good level of surveillance.

ACT Policing conducted 433 traffic stops and issued four directions to leave the ACT.

Mr Barr said business compliance remains good.

At her daily COVID briefing, Premier Gladys Berejiklian reported that NSW had 1405 new cases and five COVID deaths – two men in their 80s, two women in their 70s and a woman in her 40s. There are currently 202 people in ICU with COVID.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has reported 324 new cases overnight.

Mr Andrews said he wasn’t surprised by the spike in numbers, Victoria’s biggest one-day spike since 14 August 2020.

“We are going to see cases go up because this virus is highly, highly contagious,” he said.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith: the number of people contagious in the community remains a concern. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

9:35 am: Supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies in Canberra’s north and south dominate the new exposure sites listed on the COVID-19 website this morning.

Close contact sites include the Woolworths and Coles supermarkets in Kippax and Kaleen respectively, petrol stations in Kambah and Conder, and pharmacies in Kaleen and Tuggeranong’s South.Point.

Exposure has also occurred at Officeworks in Belconnen.

The casual contact list also includes the ALDI supermarket at Westfield Belconnen and a bottle shop at Southlands in Mawson.

Most of the exposures are from last Saturday, but some go back as far as 26 August. Check the full list for exposure times at the ACT COVID-19 website.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the continuing number of infectious people in the community was a concern and reflected the nature of the delta variant,

“The speed of transmission, the speed at which people have a viral load and become infectious before they’re even aware they’ve been exposed to the virus, that’s much more with delta than it had been previously and, of course, the virus itself is much more infectious than it was previously,” she told ABC radio.

The ACT’s case numbers, while not skyrocketing, remain stubbornly at a level that will make it difficult to end the lockdown next week.

Ms Stephen-Smith urged people with even the mildest symptoms to not go to work or go out in the community, but get tested and isolate until getting a test result and symptoms subside.

She also warned people not to take overstep the mark when it came to gathering outside.

“We relaxed those gathering rules slightly so that people could, for their own mental health, catch up with a few other people on occasion, but not every day with a different group of people – that is absolutely not in the spirit of the public health directions and the lockdown, and it’s not going to help us get through this together,” she said.

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I suspect regardless of the ACT government’s preference, they’ll be forced into having some form of vaccine passport by other states/countries insisting on something if ACT residents want to go to those places.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the most freedoms would be granted to the fully vaccinated. Is NSW considering something along the lines of vaccination apartheid, where the vaccinated sit on one side of the restaurant and the unvaccinated sit on the other side?

ABC reports that Service NSW is developing an update to its QR check-in app that would display your vaccination status when you check in to a non-essential business. Only fully vaccinated people would be allowed entry.

Perhaps NSW will also make the unvaccinated wear yellow stars and confine them to gettos, along with denying them access to shops, jobs and travel. Now what does that remind you of?

This is top notch Godwin’s law material.

Promoting getting vaccinated against a global pandemic is driven by literal Nazis. ?

HiddenDragon6:44 pm 09 Sep 21

“The ACT isn’t about to use the QR code in the Check In CBR app or a vaccine passport or ‘health pass’ to bestow privileges on vaccinated residents, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said at today’s COVID-19 briefing.”

Even if this is primarily about making a virtue of necessity, it will be an interesting contrast with the social credit Stasiland which is being planned across the border, and could turn out to be the least worst re-opening option for ACT businesses. The NSW model might work swimmingly, but then again it might not – we’re all in such a mess now because the technocratic hubris of the NSW government ran into the brick wall of reality.

Barr’s statements are just code that the ACT doesn’t have the technical capability to add the linkages to a “vaccine passport” within the Check in CBR app, nor the ability to manage such a program.

Considering the ACT government’s last big escapade into the tech world with the Choose CBR scheme, this is hardly unsurprising.

While you are probably correct chewy14, I don’t disagree with Barr. I’m not sure why we need to duplicate the exisiting vaccination certificate you can get off the Medicare app. I certainly found it annoying having 5 different government QR codes for 5 different states last year…. Why not just have a single vaccination certificate for the country.

Sorry I also should have added that I agree with Barr on this issue that it isn’t necessary for us.

The situation is obviously different in NSW but I think we would be better off with a national scheme as you’ve suggested.

Not about technical capability. Core issue is our app, which we don’t have the technical capability for according to you but we have licenced it to QLD, TAS and NT is not an identity app.

Whereas the NSW COVID checkin function is actually part of the services NSW app which does have identity linking.

Act would have to start from scratch and develop or licence an app similar to NSW, which ain’t gonna happen fast. And if it did you would be whinging.

Thanks for agreeing with me that our app and technical capability is not currently capable of the required functionality to handle a vaccine passport.

I also would like to announce that I’m not competing in the 2024 Olympic 100m sprint.

Not because I’m too slow but because I don’t believe that the Gold medal I would win would be worth it.

The ACT government wouldn’t want you to compete in the Olympics because their Human Right’s position is probably opposed to the whole concept of rewarding people for being better than others.

It is so wrong that some gain global recognition and wealth because they are innately better than others, or have worked much harder. This must be so hurtful to those who are not so successful.

It surprised me the ACT government doesn’t try and get the AIS moved away. It must be a real annoyance for them to have such an elitist organisation located here.

So alas chewy14, your certain win at the next Olympics probably isn’t going to happen.

Perhaps you should devote your prodigious talent to something much harder, such as Canberra housing affordability.

Look over there, a person coughed. Lock down extended until 2022

I think NSW is courting with disaster with all this talk of opening up and all this talk about going to hairdressers etc. They have huge case numbers and over 1,000 in ICU. Then to put the onus on venues and businesses to police the rules, is frankly dangerous. I can imagine the conflicts that are going to arise when business turn people away. Then there is the mighty dollar. You can guarantee that some businesses will flout the rules, because the risk of getting caught and the fine will be smaller than the extra revenue they’ll make.

Sorry to say but they court disaster by not opening up. People are at their wits end with lockdowns and compliance is so low it doesn’t make a difference have the restrictions there or not. We have to live with the virus eventually and will have to accept a hundred or so deaths a day will be the norm until we reach herd immunity.

Callus. But true. We have to accept deaths to accept (semi) normality. Just like we accept deaths with other diseases.

I guess deaths are ok, provided it’s not your mum or daughter.
I agree we will need to get to the point of opening up and living with the virus, but with current daily numbers around 1,400, 70% might be a bit early. My point here is that this is a political decision. The NSW Chief Medical Officer wanted a higher vac rate.

The problem is this is not a choice between deaths or no deaths.

Keeping people locked up is also resulting in more deaths, the media just don’t want to focus on them because they can’t label them with “Covid”.

You’re right that opening up businesses is a political decision.

So are lockdowns.

The modelling has shown that beginning the reopening process at 70% vaccination status for those who are Vaccinated is a reasonable balance.

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