Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said vaccine mandates for industries like construction were not necessary at the moment due to the high vaccine take up in the ACT.
Ms Stephen-Smith’s comments came after nine cases today were linked to a construction site at 7 London Circuit – six workers and three close contacts – and the ACT surpassing the 85 per cent first dose threshold.
“We have very high vaccination rates right across the community. The ACT is leading the nation in our vaccine rollout,” she said.
“We are continuing to rocket towards that 80 per cent double dose figure, and that includes high levels of vaccinations in [healthcare and construction] workforces.
“Those conversations continue about where [mandatory vaccines] will be appropriate and also what guidance we can provide to employers who may choose to mandate that their staff be vaccinated.”
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said yesterday (25 September) that the ACT would wait for National Cabinet deliberations and expert advice before mandating vaccines for specific sectors or cohorts.
But Australia’s two largest states, Victoria and NSW, have made vaccines mandatory for sectors and workers beyond residential aged care staff.
Construction workers, childcare workers and teachers in both states are covered by vaccination mandates.
Healthcare workers, transport staff and people in quarantine settings are also required to be jabbed in NSW as the state pushes towards keeping more restrictions in place for unvaccinated individuals.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT was working to determine whether healthcare staff should be jabbed to continue working on the frontline following two patients testing positive at the Canberra Hospital.
More than 200 negative tests have been returned – including from all staff members – but about 30 workers are furloughed due to the exposure.
When asked whether rapid antigen testing would negate some risk to public settings like hospitals after the initial case did not present with symptoms, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said there needs to be a higher prevalence of cases in the community for the testing to be effective.
“It is really not appropriate to be used as a screening tool because part of what we want to do with screening is making sure we identify every single case,” she said.
“Rapid antigen tests will only be useful once we can afford to miss a couple of cases because that is what it will do.
“There certainly will be certain circumstances and cohorts in which it will be used into the future. I am not sure that hospital patients are one of them. We are having strong discussions nationally and locally in that space.”
Dr Coleman said proper testing of anyone with COVID-19 or respiratory symptoms is currently being conducted at hospitals to make sure testing resources are directed towards where the virus is most likely to arise.
The education and construction sectors were flagged as possible cohorts for rapid antigen testing in the future by the Chief Health Officer but discussions are ongoing.
Ms Stephen-Smith also raised questions about what vaccination and testing mandates would look like in the future when public emergency declarations were no longer in place.
“The other thing we need to think about into the future is how these things are going to be managed when we move beyond the declaration of a public health emergency and the capacity for the Chief Health Officer to issue emergency directions under that declaration,” she said.
Mr Barr is due to offer further detail about the ACT’s pathway out of the current lockdown and any changes to public health measures and requirements at the Territory’s next checkpoint on Tuesday (28 September).
UPDATED 12:20 pm: There are 25 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT overnight, of which 18 are linked. Only three were in quarantine during their entire infectious period. Ten are household contacts. At least 16 spent part of this time in the community.
But Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said that no new cases have been identified at either the Canberra Hospital or the Calvary Haydon Retirement Community at Bruce.
While the situation continues to evolve, 200 negative tests from staff and patients have been returned so far at the hospital. All staff tests were negative. Testing continues, and the room where a COVID positive patient infected another patient has been deep cleaned. The ward has been declared a red zone and has been locked down.
Ms Stephen-Smith said that hospital patients should continue to wear masks, undertake regular hand hygiene and remain in their allocated wards while discharged patients are being contacted for testing and quarantine.
“Canberrans can be assured this situation is being expertly handled, and they should feel safe to visit the hospital if they need to do so,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
The Minister said that the negative tests were a good indication that the hospital’s infection prevention and control measures were effective.
There have also been no further positive cases at the Calvary Haydon Retirement Community. The outbreak remains at 12 cases, including three staff and nine residents. The Mary Potter and St Theresa households will be listed as exposure sites today, but the outbreak is confined to the aged care facility, and there are no cases in the adjacent retirement village complex.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said the ACT’s outbreak now totals 750 cases, of which 240 are active. There are 10 people in hospital with COVID, four are in intensive care, and three require ventilation. The youngest is in their 30s, the eldest in their 90s. Eight patients are unvaccinated, two fully vaccinated, but neither of these is in intensive care.
There are now 470 active exposure locations, and Dr Coleman said this includes level five of the construction site at 7 London Circuit. Several cases have been linked to the site.
More than 4300 tests were carried out yesterday, including 440 at the Watson pop-up clinics on the neighbourhood oval. The clinic is also open today and Dr Coleman urged anyone in the area with the mildest of symptoms to come forward for testing.
A total of 1277 traffic stops were carried out, and 38 quarantine and business checks were conducted. Two cautions were issued, as was one infringement notice for non-essential activity.
On the vaccination front, 85 per cent of the 12-plus population has now received their first dose of vaccine. Minister Stephen-Smith said there had been a strong uptake of Moderna vaccine through pharmacies, 45 per cent of which went to 12 to 15-year-olds. One-third of this cohort is now vaccinated.
Minister Stephen-Smith said there is also whole-of-ACT Government work taking place in case vaccination is mandated for any part of the Territory’s public service. Consultation is taking place with unions and staff about how such a policy would be managed.
11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 25 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.
Yesterday the ACT recorded 32 cases – the equal highest number recorded in the ACT.
Of the new cases, 18 are linked to current or identified close contacts, seven are under early investigation.
Only three people were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; at least 16 spent part of their infectious period in the community.
Ten people are in hospital with COVID-19, four are in ICU and three require ventilation.
Yesterday, 4339 tests were conducted.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, who conducted this morning’s briefing, said that “to have that level of testing on a Saturday was outstanding”.
More than 400 tests were conducted at the Watson popup centre at the Neighborhood Oval.
The ACT has now passed 85 per cent of first doses for people aged 12 and over, and Ms Stephen-Smith reported strong takeup of the Moderna vaccine among the younger age cohort.
NSW recorded 961 cases and nine deaths. More than 85 per cent of eligible people in NSW have now had one dose of vaccine and 60 per cent are double-dosed.
Yesterday NSW had 1007 new cases and 11 deaths.
In Victoria, 779 cases were recorded and two deaths.
Yesterday there were 847 new cases and one death.
The new exposure locations list released by ACT Health includes bus routes between the Belconnen interchange, Scullin and Florey, as well as between Gungahlin Place and Casey, all on Thursday, 23 September and all casual exposure sites.
Chemist Warehouse in Gungahlin between 7:20 pm and 8:00 pm and Woolworths Metro Franklin between 2:45 pm and 3:30 pm have been listed for 23 September. Anyone at the supermarkets between these times is being told to monitor for symptoms and get tested if any signs of COVID present.
The main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, and a runny or blocked nose.
80/20 Food and Supabarn in Kingston have been listed as casual exposure sites, along with Hello Sexy in Fyshwick (22 September between 11:40 am and 12:30 pm).
A full list of exposure locations can be found at www.covid19.act.gov.au.
Ms Stephen-Smith and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman will provide an update on the ACT’s COVID-19 situation at 11:45 am.