5 May 2020

Second COVID-19 case revealed as Barr warns damage will run deep

| Ian Bushnell
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Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has warned the ACT that government will not be able to mitigate the economic consequences of COVID-19. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT’s second confirmed case of COVID-19 is believed to be a man in his 30s employed at Flight Centre in Manuka. It is understood he was exposed to the virus while attending a private event in NSW.

ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman would not confirm the Flight Centre connection but a notice on the door of the Manuka office said a team member had tested positive for the virus and the office was closed for forensic cleaning. The sign has since been removed.

Dr Coleman said the man was well and in self-isolation at home, and that a number of his close contacts have been identified and are also self-quarantining, with some being tested as they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

The contacts range from work colleagues to family and friends to some in his social circle.

Dr Coleman said the man was in two ACT locations while infectious and anybody at the Art Not Apart event at New Acton on Saturday from 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm, and then at Capital Brewing Company at Fyshwick from 5:00 pm to 6.30 pm should monitor their health.

The COVID-19 diagnosis was confirmed last night (15 March).

While the risk was very low, Dr Coleman said anybody who shows symptoms in the 14 days after exposure should present for testing.

The man is also a member of a school community and ACT Health was providing advice to the school concerned.

Under the public health emergency declared this afternoon by Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, which will last five days before being renewed, Dr Coleman now has powers to force people to self-quarantine.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the public health legislation would be amended so the declaration period can be longer. He warned the situation would go on for months.

While Canberrans are doing the right thing so far, the penalty for breaching the self-isolation rules is a hefty $9000.

Mr Barr said at this point schools would not close, but a number of measures had been introduced to minimise risks including suspending sports carnivals and large concerts, considering postponing school fetes and other events including excursions.

Public schools are also planning for digital delivery of lessons, if it becomes required.

Mr Barr issued a grim warning about the economic impact of the virus on the ACT, saying the more cases there are the deeper it will be, and that people should not expect government to cover all their losses.

With event after event being cancelled and economic activity grinding to a halt, associations, sporting clubs and community organisations are looking at financial losses that may threaten their existence.

“You’re going to see a lot of events postponed or cancelled; it may not be possible to run any major events this year,” Mr Barr said.

The government was considering what support it could provide but ”it’s going to have to be multi-pronged and we’re going to have to pick moments when an intervention is useful”.

“We do need to look at what fee relief we can provide when certain payments are due, cash-flow assistance and the like that relates to ACT Government fees and charges,” Mr Barr said.

“That is on our agenda.”

But he said people need to be realistic about the limits of government assistance.

“We’re ready to do what we can but I need to pretty clear with everyone that government will not be able to mitigate the economic consequences of this,” he said.

“This is too big, bigger than anything government can respond to. We can help alleviate some of the economic pain and some of the burden, but we can’t eliminate it all, and no one should have an expectation that government can step in and make it seem like we’re growing at 4 per cent a year and everything is fine. Everything is not fine, this is going to be a deep, difficult economic period.

“Our national and territory income will be significantly less and everyone will share in that impact but what we’ll endeavour to do is ensure that it does fall disproportionately on a small group.”

He said the pain would have to be shared and with governments running deficits, part of that burden would fall on future generations as well.

Mr Barr said the government was working through case-by-case how it would manage its functions using, for example, videoconferencing to adhere to social distancing rules.

In areas such as performances at Canberra Theatre, the Arts Minister and the Cultural Facilities Corporation were working through those issues and there would be more to say in due course.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith appealed to the public to stay calm and respectful when dealing with health services such as at the Walk-in Centres where incidents of abuse have been reported.

“The best thing we can do is to be patient and to show a bit of kindness to each other,” she said. “We’re in the boat together, we’re going to get through this but we’re going to get through it by working together, not by trying to climb over one another to get to our scarce resources.

“The testing resources are not limitless and they must be focused on those who are most likely to have come into contact with COVID-19.”

So far more than 1000 Canberrans had been tested, she said.

For up to date information on COVID-19: www.health.act.gov.au.
For more information on ACT schools: www.education.act.gov.au.

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