2 September 2021

UPDATED: More support for business coming, Barr slams posturing on opening up

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he preferred a “gradual easing of restrictions” to “opening up”. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

UPDATED 2:25 pm: Chief Minister Andrew Barr has flagged more support for business over the next three months, particularly for industries that will not be able to resume due to the ongoing big outbreaks in NSW and Victoria.

These include the tourism and hospitality sectors that rely heavily on those interstate markets.

Mr Barr said the ACT Government was talking to the Commonwealth about the situation and acknowledged that there will be some sectors that will need a long tail of support while vaccination rates get to the point where public health measures can be eased.

“Over the next three months there are going to be some industry sectors that just either will have restrictions on their ability to operate to their maximum capacity or they’ll have no market because Sydney, NSW and Victoria will continue to be COVID hot spots until the vaccination rates are up to higher levels,” he told today’s press conference.

Mr Barr said there was a case for an integrated, national approach for tourism but the government would also be looking at how to restart the economy where it could.

“It’s going to vary by industry sector, and we’ll do our best over the next three months, public health being the number one priority, to get more activity in our economy and get more jobs back.”

But Mr Barr predicted a strong Christmas and a V-shaped recovery leading into a bumper 2022.

“What I am absolutely confident of is an incredibly strong rebound for the ACT economy once our population is very highly vaccinated and we can ease off on the public health measures.”

Some of the rhetoric around reopening as soon as possible stems from business and industry pressure, and Mr Barr has lamented the loose language from commentators and Federal politicians about that and the National Plan agreed to by state and territory leaders, and the Commonwealth.

“The problem has been too much glossing over, too much alpha male, aggressive, posturing about it, and that really hasn’t helped,” he said.

“If you read the detail of it, it’s a good plan. It reflects the different circumstances the states and territories find themselves in.

“My greatest frustration is just how distorted some of the coverage is, and how it is largely a regurgitation of oversimplified, shorthand, seven-second media grabs that come a lot from federal politicians, sadly. It doesn’t reflect what is in the Plan.”

Mr Barr said he preferred the term “gradual easing of restrictions” to “opening up” because that is what the National Plan says.

He said the lack of clarity around the detail of the much-touted 70 and 80 per cent vaccination targets was also a concern.

“Even better if the acknowledgement was that clearly 80 per cent is safer than 70,” Mr Barr said.

“If both of those things were part of the narrative of the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier and Treasurer Frydenberg that would be very helpful for the national debate and probably the nation’s mental health as well.”

Mr Barr said the Plan says the nation should proceed together, so NSW could not ease restrictions at 70 per cent until the nation and each jurisdiction hit that milestone.

He said 70 per cent was a gentle step and 80 per cent more significant.

“Where we all want to be is where we have the vaccination rate even higher,” Mr Barr said.

Mr Barr said there were a number of good protections kept in the Plan about what would happen at 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates, and beyond.

“And too many of these things are glossed over and overlooked, and that is really concerning,” he said.

12.30 pm: Chief Minister Andrew Barr has issued a plea for all Canberrans suffering even the mildest symptoms to come forward for testing as the ACT records 12 new cases of COVID-19, with only four of that number in quarantine for their entire infectious period.

Six cases can be linked to current sites or contacts, and six are being traced, but at today’s press briefing Mr Barr said that leaves eight people in the community for at least part of their infectious period.

Of the four intensive care patients, there are now two people being ventilated, a woman in her 40s and a man in his 20s. Both were unvaccinated and neither had pre-existing health conditions.

Thirteen people are hospitalised in total.

Mr Barr said that the 2500 tests carried out yesterday are “just not high enough”.

“The virus is out in our community. It is critical if you have symptoms to get tested as soon as possible,” he said.

Health authorities have stressed they need to see at least 3000 tests each day to allow effective surveillance.

However, the Chief Minister doesn’t think that COVID-zero is out of the question for this outbreak, given that the ACT’s effective reproduction rate is at 0.8.

“However, I readily acknowledge that we are still at extreme risk from NSW. There is no freedom day at 70 per cent,” he cautioned.

“The reporting on this, which is generally just regurgitating what certain federal politicians are saying, suggests the 70 per cent is freedom day. It’s just not safe,” he said.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said that the ACT’s outbreak now totals 309, of which 51 cases have now fully recovered. The rolling mean of cases also continues to decline.

Three new cases have been linked to the Bright Bees Early Learning Centre cluster, now standing at 37, and all are household contacts.

Dr Johnston said that the total number of cases associated with each site continued to change as the tracing team confirms and sometimes re-classifies links.

The largest clusters remain the Lyneham High cluster at 50 and Fiction night club at 51. There are no new cases at Ainslie Village although the total disability cluster stands at 20.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said that there were now less than 300 people in the ACT’s health workforce who were furloughed due to either isolation or quarantine. The new staff recruitment drive had produced 1000 applications and brought 203 staff onboard.

She acknowledged the interest from retired nurses, student nurses or non-front-line staff, particularly as the AIS mass vaccination hub gears up.

Mr Barr said that while 16,210 Canberrans aged 16 to 29 booked vaccinations at an ACT Government clinic yesterday, those booking for Pfizer should be aware that they’re unlikely to receive their first dose until October.

“I wish we had more Pfizer but we don’t,” Mr Barr said, noting that AstraZeneca is readily available without delay at GPs and pharmacies.

“If you don’t get your first dose of Pfizer until October, then it’s a further three weeks until your second dose, a further two weeks until you are effectively vaccinated. You are facing two to three months without vaccine protection,” he said.

“Please don’t take unnecessary risks – you are the most prone to contract the virus, it is circulating among the unvaccinated.”

Canberrans have enjoyed a significant advantage of being largely virus-free over 18 months and should not give that up easily through the next challenging period, Mr Barr said. He asked all Canberrans to come forward for testing, to get vaccinated and to follow public health directions.

“If we do this we can look forward to much better days and to Christmas with our family and friends … to celebrate all we will have achieved over the last three months.”

11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 12 new COVID-19 cases to 8:00 pm last night.

Six are linked to current or identified close contacts; six are under investigation. Four were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period, but eight were in the community for at least part of their infectious period.

Currently, there are 13 people in hospital with COVID-19. Four are in intensive care and two now require ventilation, up from one yesterday.

The new case requiring ventilation is a man in his 20s with no pre-existing health conditions. He is unvaccinated.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said 2500 tests were conducted yesterday, which Mr Barr said was not high enough considering the cases in the ACT.

ACT Policing is continuing with active compliance and yesterday conducted 110 traffic stops. Only one direction to leave the ACT was required.

At the moment, 68 per cent of ACT residents aged 16 and over have received their first dose of vaccine and 44.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.

NSW has recorded 1288 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths, four people aged in their 80s, a woman in her 70s, a man in his 50s and a double-vaccinated man in his 70s with significant underlying health conditions.

NSW also administered its seven-millionth jab.

Victoria recorded 176 new cases. Yesterday, Premier Dan Andrews Premier said it was no longer feasible to pursue a zero-COVID strategy due to the delta strain.

9:20 am: Two pet care stores and a large number of public transport routes have been added to the ACT’s list of COVID-19 exposure sites.

This morning’s long list includes four close and 23 casual contact sites, mainly in Gungahlin and Canberra’s south.

The four close contact sites are Petbarn Majura Park and Best Friends Pets Fyshwick from 25 August, Ainslie Cellars from Sunday and the ALDI supermarket in the Gungahlin Town Centre from Monday.

A number of Weston Creek/Molonglo bus routes make the casual contact list and a light rail route.

Routes 64, 65 and 71 between Woden Interchange and Cooleman Court, and Route 66 between Denman Prospect and Woden are listed, all from earlier this week.

Also included is Route 22 from Gungahlin to Throsby, and light rail from Gungahlin to the Manning Clark North stop from 26 August.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, take-away food and liquor stores continue to be listed as exposure sites.

Costco at Majura Park from 25 August, Woolworths at Mawson also from 25 August, Conder from Sunday, SupaBarn Express in Watson from 27 August and First Choice Liquor in the Gungahlin Town Centre from Monday are listed.

Also included is Priceline Pharmacy in Gungahlin from Monday and KFC in Phillip from 27 August.

An office complex in Belconnen is now also a casual contact exposure site. The JAGA Swanston Court offices are listed from 26 August.

For all the exposure times, check the ACT COVID-19 website.

The ACT’s new mass vaccination clinic commences operations tomorrow.

Bookings opened for young people aged 16-29 yesterday, and to 5:00 pm a total of 14,617 bookings were made.

The government is urging more people to get tested as numbers dip. Waiting times at present are minimal.

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I didn’t vote for Andrew Barr, but I’m impressed with the way that he addresses the media, regarding Covid.
Some of the other State Premiers could learn a lot.

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