5 May 2020

UPDATED: Nine new COVID-19 cases, Qatar arrivals in hotel quarantine

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Canberra Hospital

Six COVID-19 patients have been hospitalised in the ACT. Photo: George Tsotsos.

UPDATED 3:45 pm, 28 MARCH: There have been nine new confirmed cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the ACT’s total to 71. And while the vast majority of the ACT’s confirmed diagnoses of the virus still relate to overseas travellers and their close contacts, ACT Health has revealed that one case is being investigated by Health Protection Services.

The new cases include six males and three females, aged between 48 and 73. Seven of the cases are linked to overseas travel, although ACT Health says there are no new air flights associated with these cases. The new diagnoses include people who have travelled on cruise ships.

One case is a confirmed close contact of a confirmed case and close contact tracing of all new confirmed cases of COVID-19 is being undertaken.

ACT Health remains adamant that there is no evidence of local transmission and at this stage, there is no confirmation of why Health Protection Services is investigating one of the new cases. The agency monitors and reduces the spread of communicable diseases in the ACT, liaising with the Federal Government and State and Territory health departments.

Asked at a press conference this afternoon whether the case under investigation was a frontline health worker, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said that she did not have details at this stage but noted that testing criteria had been broadened to include healthcare and disability support workers to provide a level of surveillance across the community.

“We are also now getting people who are symptomatic who have been travelling to other parts of Australia,” the Minister said. “I can’t say which category this person is in, the investigation is ongoing.”

The Minister said that the ACT had also put into effect mandatory quarantine measures for the seven passengers who arrived in Canberra via a Qatar Airways flight this morning, ahead of the Saturday midnight deadline.

Passengers were met at Canberra Airport by ACT Health staff including the Chief Health Officer and Chief Psychologist and are now self-isolating at a Canberra hotel. None of the passengers had reported feeling unwell at this stage.

It’s understood the Burbury Hotel in Barton, where a number of other apartments are already being used for self-isolation, is the quarantine venue. The hotel is currently closed to other guests.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the situation would be reviewed after 48 hours and a thorough assessment, raising the possibility that some passengers may be able to self isolate at home.

“The intention of the national cabinet was that mandatory quarantine would occur in a place determined by the Chief Health Officer,” she said. “It is important we recognise that Chief Health Officers make a determination about appropriate places … whether it is a hotel or another appropriate place.”

Ms Stephen-Smith reiterated that it was “almost inevitable” that there would be some community transmission in Canberra as the pandemic unfolds. She also addressed questions about the number of ventilators in the ACT and the need for prolonged care after patients leave intensive care.

ACT Health believes it is possible to more than double capacity across the health system at the least, she said. Canberra Hospital CEO Bernadette McDonald has been appointed deputy health controller for clinical response across the Territory, coordinating a whole of ACT clinical response with public and private hospitals.

Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnson said that there is still no evidence of community transmission in the ACT.

“While numbers continue to go up, the increase is coming from returning Canberrans from overseas and some regions interstate where there is community transmission, from cruise ships and close contacts of cases,” she said

“The ACT is in a comparatively good position in Australia. We have no transmission from unknown sources like some other regions in Australia. If we can delay that as long as possible to flatten the curve, our health system will be in the best position possible.

“We need to continue to keep working as a community to do this.”

All flight details of confirmed cases are available on the ACT Health website via www.health.act.gov.au.

There have been 3988 negative COVID-19 tests in the ACT to date and six patients are currently in hospital. As reported yesterday, one of these patients is in intensive care.

Two patients have recovered completely and have been released from self-isolation, while the remaining patients are isolating at home with support from ACT Health.

People who are concerned and want further information on the virus, can call the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Phyl, I know you won’t see this but the reason this couldn’t have been done earlier is because there were far too many people arriving, well over 40,000 a day with tourists still here occupying the hotel rooms.

With many of the tourists now gone rooms are available and the number of people arriving has dropped to a few thousand a day.

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