8 January 2021

Probing the polls: division over masks, and should we shut down the border?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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COVID-19 warning sign

COVID-19 warning sign after Sydney outbreak. Photo: David Murtagh.

As the ACT grapples with the implications of a COVID-19 outbreak just up the road in Sydney, locals are divided on the value of further restrictions.

While the ACT remains virus-free, apart from the occasional quarantined traveller, outbreaks in Sydney and now Brisbane have caused widespread concern so the ACT decided to close its borders. But do we need to be doing more?

Last week, we wondered whether the ACT’s current fairly relaxed attitude to masks and other preventative measures should be enhanced.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has introduced the mandatory wearing of face masks in indoor settings such as shopping centres, public transport and entertainment venues, but the ACT Government has confirmed it won’t change local advice as there are no known cases of community transmission in Canberra.

READ ALSO COVID-19 boosts ACT Public Service workforce, hastens digital take-up

We asked, Should we be wearing masks and taking greater precautions in the ACT? A total of 1552 people voted in the poll and results were close.

Your choices were to vote No, we’re not facing significant risks and there’s no need to panic. This received 52 per cent of the total or 811 votes. Alternatively, you could vote Yes, let’s do everything possible to keep ourselves safe until the vaccine arrives. This received 48 per cent of the total or 741 votes.

This week, we’re pondering whether the controls on ACT borders are tight enough. Currently, police are stopping cars on the Federal Highway and a checkpoint has been established on the border at Queanbeyan.

The Federal Highway is the main entry point for Sydney travellers and poses the greatest risk, chief health officer Dr Kerryn Coleman says. Non-residents who have been to Brisbane, Greater Sydney, Wollongong and the Central Coast cannot enter the ACT.

From 3:00 pm tomorrow (9 January), non-residents without an exemption to be in the ACT arriving from Brisbane by plane will be denied entry and will be sent back to Brisbane.

Residents who have been to any of these areas must quarantine for 14 days. There are around 2,900 people currently in quarantine in the ACT.

A checkpoint was established at Hall on Thursday (7 January), and Goulburn and Yass residents have expressed concerns about accessing employment and other essential services in the ACT.

READ ALSO Will anyone be missing Summernats in Canberra this weekend?

ACT Policing and health authorities say that residents have been co-operative and compliant with health directions throughout the pandemic, but the risks posed by around 80 non-residents attempting to enter the ACT each day from hotspots is significant.

Dr Coleman says the travel restrictions should make it “absolutely clear” that non-ACT residents who live in, or have recently visited COVID-19 affected areas cannot enter the Territory. Anyone caught breaking the new rules can be fined up to $8000, acting Health Minister Chris Steel said.

This week, we’re wondering whether you think border restrictions need to be tougher. Our question is:

Should we shut down the ACT’s borders completely?

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