UPDATED 2:30 pm: The ACT Government has today announced an additional $5.7 million in funding to support a COVID-safe return to on-campus learning.
The funds will be directed towards purchasing essential supplies like masks and hand sanitiser, improved ventilation, additional relief teacher hours and additional senior psychologists to provide online counselling and support for ACT public school students.
Speaking at today’s COVID conference, Minister for Education Yvette Berry said she was aware of just how difficult the last eight weeks had been for school communities, and she understood the anxiety regarding the upcoming few weeks as the staged return to school begins.
She also noted there was a level of concern about the possibility of COVID-19 infections in schools.
The phased return to school has previously been announced by the ACT Government, with Year 12 students already at school, Year 11s to join them from Monday, 18 October, and other students to return to campus over the following weeks.
A recent survey conducted by the ACT Education Directorate found that 35 per cent of staff were confident that schools were safe, 35 per cent were not confident and 30 per cent were not sure.
On the other hand, 65 per cent of students were confident schools were safe, 15 per cent of students said they were not confident and 20 per cent were not sure.
The survey also revealed that staff were concerned about the expected increased workload during the transition to on-campus learning.
Ms Berry said Education staff would be supported over the coming weeks and would not be expected to provide remote or online learning at the same time as delivering on-campus learning.
More relief teachers are likely to help support teachers throughout Term 4.
While no one is entirely sure yet what life will look like post-lockdown, Ms Berry said that if a positive case is recorded in a school, an ACT Health response team will be set up to work directly in the school.
Resources such as site map plans, rosters and knowing which students have been in contact with one another will help these teams identify who needs to isolate, quarantine and/or be tested, she said.
“Previously, we saw the Chief Health Officer classify the entire school as an exposure site, but going back to school we are going to keep age cohorts as separate as possible, so the response might be different,” Ms Berry explained.
However, the Minister could not rule out having to send an entire school community into lockdown.
She also promised direct lines of communication between schools and parents, and said the experiences of NSW and Victoria, both of which are opening earlier, will also be used as a guide.
“We’re all learning … but we will make sure the response is a Health response,” she said.
Ms Berry noted that up until this point, the Canberra community has put their trust in the health guidance as set out by Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman and the community should be confident in return to school plans.
Unlike in neighbouring NSW, there are currently no plans for the ACT Government to introduce a vaccine mandate for school teachers and staff at this stage.
Ms Berry today said the vaccination rate of public school teachers was currently sitting at 97 per cent, although she did note this figure included fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated and people with a vaccination appointment booked.
Vaccination rates for independent and Catholic schools and early childhood education are incoming, she said, and once this data is collated, further information will be provided.
Having repeatedly been questioned on this in the past, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said mandates will not be introduced until everyone has had adequate and ample opportunity to get vaccinated.
Likewise, as there is no vaccine currently available for children under 12 years of age, Mr Barr has also previously said their safety will be reliant on the adults around them being fully vaccinated.
The safety of students will also be increased through improved ventilation, more outdoor learning and the segregation of student groups.
HEPA filters will not be included in the upgrades to schools flagged at this stage. Ms Berry said the health advice did not currently recommend them if adequate ventilation could be assured.
According to a statement released by Minister Berry’s office this morning, “the Government is also continuing to work with the Catholic and independent school sectors on how it can support their infrastructure needs for a COVID-safe return to on-campus learning”.
New exposure locations have also been added to the ACT Government’s COVID-19 exposure list this afternoon.
As with this morning’s list, there are no new close contact sites, and the casual contact site list is once again dominated by supermarkets and food takeaway venues.
In Canberra’s North, new venues of concern include Belconnen ALDI on Wednesday, 6 October between 9:35 am and 10:30 am and Woolworths Metro Cameron Avenue on the same day between 7 and 8:10 am as well as Tursday, 5 October between 7 am and 3:15 pm.
On the Southside, there is only one new casual contact site – Woolworths Weston on Sunday, 3 October between 5:20 pm and 6:10 pm.
New locations added under the monitor for symptoms category are in the suburbs of Belconnen, the City, Dickson, Gungahlin, Isabella Plains, Lyneham, O’Connor, Rivett and Weston.
See the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website for specific exposure times.
UPDATED 12:30 pm: There are 40 new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT overnight, less than a quarter of whom were in quarantine during their entire infectious period.
Although there are no new cases in the Centenary Hospital cluster, it’s been confirmed that five babies are now in quarantine and cannot be visited by carers until they return negative tests on Day Five since exposure.
Of the new cases, 21 are linked, including 15 household contacts, which continues to be the predominant method of transmission, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said at today’s COVID briefing.
The total outbreak now numbers 1147, including 430 active cases and more than 400 active exposure locations.
There are 19 cases are under investigation and nine people were in quarantine during their entire infectious period. Ten spent some time in the community for at least part of their infectious period and may present a risk of transmission.
Sixteen people are in hospital, six are in intensive care and five require ventilation. Eleven of these hospital patients are unvaccinated.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said that investigations continue into the source of the Special Care Nursery cluster. It’s been confirmed that the team member who tested positive had cared directly for the first baby who was infected. The staff member was fully vaccinated.
Both babies are now being cared for in a paediatric COVID-19 ward and five babies who have been assessed as close contacts are now in quarantine.
“I acknowledge this is an incredibly challenging and stressful situation for their parents,” Ms Stephen-Smith said. Carers can visit after Day Five tests are cleared, but must wear PPE and follow infection and control measures.
There are 27 staff in quarantine and plans have been implemented to minimise the impact on service delivery. The Minister said that risk assessments continue and enhanced infection control measures are in place. Non-essential movement has been limited in and out of the Special Care Nursery and Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit.
The Minister also discussed the significant impact the pandemic has had on Canberra’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.
Ninety cases have been recorded in the community and the Minister said there has been an increasing level of anxiety over transmission, mostly among unvaccinated people.
As of 4 October, 74.4 per cent of the overall Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 12-plus population have received one dose of vaccine and 51.4 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Ms Stephen-Smith said while there are much higher rates of vaccination among some older age groups, vaccination levels are not as high as they should be among younger age groups in particular.
“The Aboriginal community skews younger, so lower rates of vaccination will have an impact. This also reflects that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sometimes don’t have high levels of trust in government and mainstream health services.”
The ACT Government has been working with Winnunga Nimmityjah, Yeddung Mura and Gugan Aboriginal centres and the Minister said “lots of effort” was going into providing vaccinations and culturally appropriate messages. Vaccination services are also being provided on the Northside through Gungahlin Salvos.
Across the entire ACT population, 97 per cent of the Territory’s 12-plus population has now received their first dose of vaccine and 68 per cent are fully vaccinated. The vaccine rollout is now predominantly second doses.
More than 4800 tests were carried out yesterday, the highest number of tests since August.
A total of 538 drivers were stopped and six people were directed to leave the ACT, although no infringement notices were issued.
UPDATED 11:55 am: The ACT has recorded 40 new cases of COVID-19.
Yesterday there were 41 cases.
Of the 40, 21 can be linked to known cases or ongoing clusters while 19 are under early investigation.
Nine were in quarantine for the entirety of their infectious period; 10 spent some time in the community and may present a risk of transmission.
As of 8 pm last night, there are 16 people in hospital with COVID, six are in ICU and five require ventilation.
On the vaccination front, almost 97 per cent of the Territory’s 12-plus population has received a first dose of a vaccine while 68 per cent are now fully vaccinated.
More than 4800 tests were conducted yesterday – the highest single-day number since August.
NSW has recorded 646 new cases and 11 deaths. Of the new cases, 48 are from Illawarra Shoalhaven LHD and 24 are from Southern NSW LHD.
Yesterday, NSW had 587 new cases and eight deaths.
Victoria has recorded a record number of Australian cases in a single day – 1838 – and five deaths.
There are 16,823 active infections in the state.
Yesterday there were 1638 new COVID cases and two deaths.
According to VicHealth, in the week to Tuesday, 79 per cent of new infections were unvaccinated, 15 per cent were partially vaccinated and only 7 per cent had received both doses.
Supermarkets and takeaways have once again dominated the list of COVID-19 exposure sites added to the ACT Government’s website in the overnight update.
No new close contact locations have been listed.
In Canberra’s North, Coles Belconnen is listed as a casual site for Monday, 4 October between 2:40 pm and 3:30 pm and Woolworths Belconnen is listed on the same day between 3 pm and 4 pm.
Also on the northside, Woolworths Charnwood is a casual exposure site for Thursday, 30 September between 2:45 pm and 3:50 pm, Woolworths Kippax is listed for Tuesday, 5 October between 11 am and 11:45 am and Coles Kaleen for Sunday, 26 September between 2:15 and 3:20 pm.
The IGA in Lyneham is another casual site, listed as a venue of concern for Wednesday, 29 September, between 3:50 pm and 4:45 pm.
The Parkwood Egg Farm in Holt is a casual contact site for Thursday, 23 September between 6:30 am and 3 pm; Friday, 24 September between 6:30 am and 3 pm; and Saturday, 25 September between 6:30 am and 11 am.
In Gungahlin, KFC is listed twice as a casual contact site – on Monday, 4 October between 4:30 pm and 9:30 pm and Tuesday, 5 October between 4 pm and 9:30 pm.
In Canberra’s South, FishCo Fish Market in Fyshwick is a casual contact site on Friday, 1 October between 10:30 am and 11:15 am and Panda Chinese Restaurant in Monash is listed on the same day between 5 pm and 9 pm.
Woolworths Wanniassa has been listed across a number of days. The times of concern are Sunday, 26 September between 5 pm and 6:15 pm; Monday, 27 September between 2 pm and 2:50 pm; Tuesday, 28 September between 4:30 and 5:15 pm; Friday, 1 October between 1:20 pm and 2:50 pm; Saturday, 2 October between 1 pm and 2:10 pm; and Monday, 4 October between 6:45 pm and 7:50 pm.
Bus route 77, which travelled from the Tuggeranong Interchange to Woden Interchange on Thursday, 30 September between 3:51 pm and 4:36 pm has been updated from monitor for symptoms to casual.
Across the ACT, 23 new locations have been added as monitor for symptoms sites. These are in the suburbs of Ainslie, Belconnen, Canberra City, Charnwood, Fyshwick, Gowrie, Greenway, Gungahlin, Holt, Macquarie, Melba, O’Connor, Phillip, Waniassa and Weston.
See the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website for specific exposure times.
The ACT will today enter its ninth consecutive week of lockdown, and despite nation-leading vaccination rates, looks set to remain that way until 15 October when some restrictions will be eased.
Over 95 per cent of people in the ACT aged over 12 have received their first dose, including 80 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds.
Yesterday, another student in an ANU residential hall – Wright Hall – tested positive. Students were notified of the case by email on Thursday morning.
In line with government directives, remote learning is continuing at the ANU for the rest of the year.
An update is expected from Minster for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith, Minister for Education Yvette Berry and Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman at 11:45 am.
More to come.