26 September 2021

UPDATED: Vaccination mandate for more sectors currently 'not necessary' due to high take up

| Dominic Giannini and Genevieve Jacobs
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Rachel Stephen-Smith

Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT is leading the nation rolling out the vaccine. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

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).

Rachel Stephen-Smith

Rachel Stephen-Smith at this morning’s COVID-19 briefing. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

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.


In the latest COVID exposure sites list from ACT Health, Woolworths Metro Franklin (monitor for symptoms) and Gungahlin (casual) have been named. Photo: Region Media.

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.

READ ALSO NEWS ACT Government opens new quarantine facility in O’Connor

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.

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Before getting too gung ho I’d want to be very sure that eight out of the eleven Covid deaths in NSW the other day weren’t of unvaccinated people with disabilities in group share homes who were supposed to have been vaccinated by Easter. Is this the sort of society (sorry Maggie) we want to live in, neglecting those who can’t help themselves (we should include the 12s to 15s as well) because the freedom (yeah, it’s great, man!) mob can’t wait a couple of weeks?

You act like the lockdown has no negative health consequences of its own.

Perhaps have a bit of a longer think about that and then recognise why it’s not correct.

Could it be that the ACT Government’s Human Rights Charter prevents mandatory
The Chief eluded to Human Rights when he spoke about difficulties of introducing Vaccination Passports into the ACT.
To me, it appears the ACT’s Human Rights Charter denies the Rights of the majority, to protect the Rights of the minority.

Clever Interrobang7:59 pm 26 Sep 21

The point of having inalienable rights is that they can’t be taken away by will of the mob.

@kenbehrens .. your “”To me, it appears the ACT’s Human Rights Charter denies the Rights of the majority, to protect the Rights of the minority.””

Your “to protect the Rights of the minority” reminded me of something and that was the laws passed in our neighbouring states about outlaw moter bike gangs , when tried here , were vetoed here by our human rights act “to protect the Rights of the minority.””

Funny old world innit.

Let’s be clear what ‘no vaccine mandates are necessary’ means in this story.
The ACT Govt still refuses to mandate vaccines for particular professions, including teachers or nurses who work in the public system.

Various ACT ministers say ‘we have high (background) take-up’. That does not protect students from anti-vax teachers – but everyone must rush off to get their kids vaccinated

Barr said ‘it’s about choice’ – that’s not right, there is no choice if an employer requires it. Workplace law allows employers to demand vaccination in public facing roles, and allows workers to be fired if they refuse.

Medical reasons? Nup. The only three medical conditions demanding caution are, chemo, organ recipients, or anyone who has previously had an anaphylactic reaction to vaccinations (so not peanut allergy). Vanishingly rare.

And, the Victorian Government mandated vaccinations for teachers by November.

So why oh why won’t the ACT mandate vaccinations? There is no scientific reason to avoid mandates – and in fact, there’s a bunch of epidemiologists urging the govt to re-open ACT schools (as long as teachers have been vaccinated). There’s no legal problem. There’s no medical justification either.

Seems reeeeaaaaally strange to not mandate jabs to ACT Govt employees.

Clever Interrobang5:15 pm 26 Sep 21

Children are at far less risk of complications from the virus that he elderly, or the teachers themselves in fact.

It’s not the same risk assessment as a care home or a hospital, and clearly the ACT government is aware of this.

The call for mandates does not take into account the fact that the vaccine does not prevent transmission and has not shown significant efficacy against the delta variant (or the fact that the virus will continue to mutate rendering current vaccines potentially ineffective).

Immunocompromised children are best placed to stay away from schools even if among vaxxed populations as they can still catch and spread the virus.

Clearly your view of certain government statutes regarding workplace law doesn’t take into account a person’s right to refuse or any of their other rights bestowed to them under the common law.

I welcome the ACT governments sensible and cautious approach and I feel that I am not alone.

An interesting note from our Chief Health Officer Dr Coleman regarding a building site outbreak.
“The site may be shut down temporarily by the owners of the business to support contact tracing and those kinds of things,” she said. “But I certainly haven’t directed it to be shut down.”

Are things starting to turn.? Where once the site would have been shut down “”I certainly haven’t directed it to be shut down””.

Just perhaps we are starting to go down the track where we accept living with this virus ,along with the other deadly things we live with.

Mike of Canberra1:04 pm 26 Sep 21

I have no doubt Delta /Covid is a real threat and potentially hazardous to many who have it. I can’t help feeling, however, that our Chief Minister is beating up the situation somewhat and appears rather motivated to keep us all locked down at least up to mid-October and possibly longer. Why?

We know Canberra faces a worsening Delta outbreak. We also know that Delta, while highly infectious, is rarely a threat to the lives of otherwise healthy people, especially younger individuals who are fit and in good health. This is borne out by the fact that people who supposedly have died “of” Delta are primarily older, already frail and/or often, present with one or more comorbidities. In fact, it could be argued that a fair proportion of COVID/Delta deaths reporting is somewhat misleading, given many of these deaths have been “with” rather than “from” COVID.

Another factor is that the ACT is on track to possibly the highest vaccination rate in the country, maybe even approaching or exceeding 90% of the adult population. With all this in mind, why does our Chief Minister insist on keeping us locked down while maligning NSW, you know, the State that seems to be making the best fist of actually “living with” not “in fear” of COVID/Delta and appearing even to have stabilised the infection rate or possibly put it on a downward trajectory?

It couldn’t be politics, could it? After all, the NSW Premier is a Liberal. And ongoing lockdowns are likely to damage the Federal Coalition Government’s re-election prospects while boosting Barr. Surely Barr isn’t that cheap – is he? Or is he simply a control freak, who’s rather attracted to the control over individuals’ lives that lockdowns give him? Surely not!

Think you will find both the ACT and NSW (and Victoria) all have the same end goal which is get enough people vaccinated to allow a gradual return to “normal”. And this answers the why you ask in in your first paragraph.

I also note that many seem to hold NSW up as an example of having a road map out, but what is interesting is their road map still doesn’t make it clear the specifics of what may or may not open at certain levels, even to the extent the NSW was debating this very issue last week.

In fact ACT, NSW are all basically in the same page. Difference NSW has put predicted dates on stages, ACT hasn’t and the ACT is using vaccination rates of over 12’s rather than over 16’s.

But end of day as mentioned I’m certain the end goal is the same with politicking the only obvious difference.

Bigger issue is NT, QLD, SA, TAS and WA as to how they are going to open noting it will mean they will get infections. But again notice it is only QLD and WA that seem to make the presses or the ire of Greg Hunt and the PM. But nothing heard of SA and TAS that have similar zero covid polices. What do QLD and WA have in common and what does SA and TAS have in common. Politics.

Thanks for pointing out that the ACT is not following the National Plan.

And no the ACT “plan” is not nearly the same as both Victoria and NSW who have given their citizens more detail on what the path forward looks like, closer to what was agreed Nationally.

Our paternalistic government steadfastly refuses any form of transparency over the decisions and is far too focused only on COVID related issues.

With regards to SA, they have committed to reopening their borders at 80% Vaccination rates, which is why they haven’t been lumped in with QLD and WA. The two states who seemingly have completely walked away from the National Plan that they agreed to.

Although you are right it’s about politics, but most of that is coming from the state premiers.

Clever Interrobang8:01 pm 26 Sep 21

It’s just politics, ending the lockdown or extending it will upset one group or another no matter what. It’s a delicate balance.

Which is why the lockdown decisions should be based on solid evidence that balances all impacts, not just COVID ones. And that evidence should be freely shared with the electorate to provide transparency and lessen the political grandstanding.

Unfortunately we have none of that.

NSW and Victoria are not following the National plan either which was my point.

And Nsw does not have a plan as detailed as what you make out. Their plan is as vague as the ACT’s which is as vague as the National plan.

As I mentioned NSW cabinet is still debating what the various stages will actually look like in reality rather than the vagueness of the National plan. They are to announce some of the more firm plans this week.

As for SA they are not following the National plan either. Their 80% is about reducing restrictions and potential lockdowns. It is not throw the doors open like NSW is “talking” about. In actual fact the talk in SA is along the same lines as WA and QLD.

NSW and Victoria are the two states following most closely to the National Plan.

At least finally you’ve admitted that the ACT is not following the plan. It’s only taken you a few weeks of obfuscation to agree that Andrew Barr has been giving misleading statements at his daily press conferences. Credit to you.

And because I’m not politically partisan, I’ve been holding up the ALP government’s plan in Victoria as what we should similarly have. But the NSW plan is far more detailed than what we currently have also.

You talk about politics being an issue but then refuse to hold the ACT government to account for their political behaviour. One of the key reasons Andrew Barr doesn’t want to release detailed information is becausee he thinks it will leave him open to political attacks if he doesn’t deliver, even with significant caveats provided.

Most sensible people won’t do that however and he should do what’s right regardless of the politics.

And SA currently have almost no local restrictions so how can they not be following the National Plan? They’ve said they will open the borders at 80% which is the only current sticking point. You can’t hypothetically claim they aren’t following the plan, when their current actions show they are.

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