23 August 2021

UPDATED: COVID cluster identified in disability community, Health investigating public housing site

| Dominic Giannini and Genevieve Jacobs
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at the COVID-19 briefing this morning. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

UPDATED 1:20 pm: ACT Health is investigating the possibility that Condamine Court is an exposure location after a positive case was found to have visited the public housing facility earlier in the week.

The high-density housing, coupled with the number of vulnerable people within the dwelling, resulted in health authorities working late into last night on an action plan.

Deputy Chief Minister and Housing Minister Yvette Berry said that while investigations were still underway, the government had learned from Victoria where a hard lockdown of a housing complex was later found to have breached human rights laws.

Ms Berry said the government was taking a people-centric approach and prioritising the wellbeing of residents as opposed to locking down the complex with little notice.

On-site testing is currently being conducted and is expected to be completed by tomorrow.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said authorities were monitoring the situation closely.

Dr Coleman said that while authorities did not want to under respond to the situation, there are concerns that “over responding” to the incident would only increase fear and anxiety within the already vulnerable community.

UPDATED 12.30 pm: In a development that the ACT’s health authorities warned was likely, there have been 19 new COVID-19 cases in the ACT. Changes to the ACT’s cut-off time for daily reporting meant that today’s number was always likely to be higher, the Chief Minister said at today’s press briefing.

Of these 19 cases, 17 are linked to known cases or public transmission sites and two remain under investigation. Six were infectious in the community. Of the total 121 cases, 117 are linked to known access or exposure sites. Four cases continue to be under investigation, including what’s believed to be the index case.

Three people have now been hospitalised, two of them for non-COVID-related reasons. The additional hospital patient is stable and does not require ventilation. There are now 320 exposure locations across the ACT.

Mr Barr reiterated that the ACT remains at significant risk from the NSW outbreak.

“We, like the rest of Australia, are in a position where we are battling the Delta variant. We are more exposed because of our geographic location, wholly contained within the state of NSW. It’s defensible to say our risk is somewhat greater than most other Australian states and territories.”

A small cluster of 14 cases has emerged in the disability community, including people living with disabilities and support workers.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said that in addition, a significant number of disability support workers had been affected either as close, secondary or casual contacts and five providers are directly affected.

“Outbreak planning has been underway for many months for high-risk settings including aged, disability and high-density residential settings,” she said.

“Planning with the disability sector has been ongoing for months and plans were escalated immediately when there was a single case in any sector.”

She thanked disability leaders for collaborating on the planning process.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said that since the last update, case investigations have also identified the Housing ACT Condamine Court complex at Turner as a possible exposure location.

“This is still very much an evolving situation, but we have prepared for it,” Dr Coleman said.

There are comprehensive plans for high risk and vulnerable cohorts, including people living in high-density public housing. The response includes a range of supports beyond the direct health response.

A positive case has also been confirmed at the ANU and health authorities are working closely with the university. There are no confirmed exposure sites on campus as yet, but investigations are continuing.

Yesterday 3640 tests were conducted in the ACT and wait times are shorter than previously. But given the forecast for wet weather tomorrow and Tuesday, the Chief Minister urged people to come forward today if possible.

ACT Policing conducted 450 traffic stops yesterday and only two directions were required.

Mr Barr said that business engagement has been excellent and thanked all businesses for working hard to support the public health response and operate safely. Reports of possible breaches can be made to ACT Police through online forms, Access Canberra or via the COVID hotline.

Around 60 per cent of the ACT’s population has now had their first dose of vaccine. Mr Barr said ACT vaccination rates remain well above the national average. The Chief Minister noted that the AstraZeneca vaccine is available immediately across the Territory through ACT Government clinics.

Dr Coleman thanked people working at Access Canberra, ACT Health and on the vaccine booking sites, including public health coordination.

“They are receiving massive numbers of calls, exemption requests and vaccination bookings,” Dr Coleman said.

“That shows me the community is engaged and interested. I want to send a special shout out to the teams who handle this massive volume of interest. Thank you all for your patience; please be considerate of people at the other end. Most of the information you need is likely to be online, so please try there first.”

UPDATED 11:55 am: ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has announced 19 new COVID-19 cases in the ACT.

Seventeen are linked and two remain under investigation. Of the 19, only six were infectious in the community.

A cluster of 10 to 12 cases has been discovered in the disability community, including people living with disability and support workers.

The ACT Government has been actively supporting the individuals in the community,

Yesterday, 3640 tests were conducted. Wait times are shorter than have been experienced earlier in the week.

The popup testing clinics, however, will be impacted by the rain forecast tomorrow and Tuesday.

ACT Policing conducted 450 traffic stops yesterday; only two directions to leave the ACT were required.

For the second day in a row, NSW has set a new COVID-19 record.

NSW confirmed 830 cases in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm last night. Yesterday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced 825 cases.

There are 557 COVID-19 patients cases in hospital. Ninety-seven are in intensive care. There were three deaths.

8:30 am: ANU has confirmed that a student on campus has tested positive for COVID-19 but has been in isolation in a self-contained apartment since the start of the ACT’s outbreak.

It follows eight new cases yesterday (21 August), all of whom were in isolation during their infectious period.

Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt sent a message to staff and students on Saturday (21 August) advising them of the case and asking the university’s community to respect the privacy of the individual.

It is the second case within the university since the pandemic began, he said.

“I do not intend to announce every case in our community going forward,” he said. “We will contact all those who are directly affected.”

The number of exposure locations in the ACT has also grown overnight and now includes the Metropol apartments in the city, the Belconnen Markets and a host of public transport routes.

A full list of exposure locations can be found at www.covid19.act.gov.au.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith and ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman will be providing an update at 11:45 am.

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Ray Polglaze7:56 pm 22 Aug 21

Condamine Court on Northbourne Avenue in Turner is now a close contact site for COVID 19. This is a complete disaster for the ACT community. Condamine Court has at least ten active drug dealers. There are many drug users, possibly hundreds, coming to Condamine Court to access drugs. There is no prospect that all of these drug users are going to identify themselves as having been to Condamine Court. There is therefore no prospect of being able to track and trace COVID 19 from exposure to the drug dealing at Condamine Court.

The problems with drug dealing at Condamine Court and the risks this poses for the other tenants of the complex have been raised with both Housing Ministers and Housing ACT from multiple directions for more than a year. Nevertheless, Yvette Berry, as the Minister responsible for Housing ACT’s maintenance, has been unable to get the basic maintenance work done that is necessary to protect the tenants. It has been impossible to get the foyer doors fixed so that tenants can secure the stairwells. This has allowed drug dealers to use housing complex as a drug playground.

The saga of Condamine Court is now a remarkable trail of negligence and incompetence by the Minister and her department. This has now predictably placed in jeopardy the health of the ACT community. The COVID 19 risks from having a public housing complex acting as a drug “food barn” with multiple dealers and users has long been apparent. But still the Minister and her department have failed to act.

Now that COVID 19 is probably spreading through the drug users of Inner North Canberra, it may be impossible to bring it under control in the ACT.

HiddenDragon6:42 pm 22 Aug 21

After the usual carefully worded more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger potshots about vaccination for aged care and disability sector workers (i.e. the responsibility of the federal government) it was most interesting to hear the verbal tap-dancing and temporizing in today’s press conference in response to a question about mandatory vaccinations for front-line staff in the ACT health system.

With vaccines, including Pfizer, having been made available to many Canberrans and Canberra region people who would be lower priority than front-line health workers, vaccine shortages really can’t be an excuse for this. If the real position is that every encouragement will be given, but ultimately there will be no compulsion, then the ACT government needs to respect that for other sectors of the workforce, too.

Adrienne Yeo1:12 pm 23 Aug 21

If vaccines are to be mandatory, then Canberrans should be given a choice. Not everyone wants the gene based “vaccines” that act more like gene therapy devices (synthetic RNA used so that your own body produces the pathogen). Sinovac has been approved for emergency use by WHO. Why isn’t it approved in Australia ? Because it is associated with China ?

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