28 October 2022

Territory closes last drive-through testing clinic as it defends 'one of world's best' COVID-19 responses

| Lottie Twyford
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The queue at the Garran COVID-19 testing centre

It’s been a long time since we had queues like this at a testing centre, but that doesn’t mean the government isn’t keeping a baseline level of testing available. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

In a further sign of the pandemic easing in the Territory, the Mitchell COVID-19 testing centre will close at 2 pm today.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has remarked repeatedly on the reduction in demand for PCR testing in recent weeks.

She said tests have fallen to an average of 400 a day across the Territory. At the height of testing demand, there were thousands of PCR tests a day in the ACT.

PCR tests are an expensive service for the government to conduct and the operation of the testing centres requires staff to be redeployed from elsewhere.

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From tomorrow (29 October), the Garran Surge Centre will operate daily from 10 am to 6 pm as a combined PCR testing and Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) distribution hub.

On Canberra’s north side, the Holt COVID-19 testing centre operated by Capital Pathology will remain open from 8 am to 4 pm.

Free rapid antigen tests will continue to be distributed at libraries for concession cardholders.

COVID-19 testing is also available at YourGP@Crace and Ochre Medical Centre Lakeview (bookings only) and Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services for First Nations people and existing clients.

The government is now prioritising PCR testing for those at higher risk of severe illness, who work in high-risk settings, have a referral from their GP, can’t use a rapid antigen test or have used a rapid antigen test and are still symptomatic.

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The rollback of services comes as the ACT Government defends its – and the country’s – COVID-19 response following a damning report led by Peter Shergold, former Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2003 to 2008) and the current Chancellor of Western Sydney University.

That report concluded school and border closures had amounted to overreach and were often enforced unfairly.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the public health measures and early action taken by the Territory and across the country had been successful in responding to the pandemic.

She said community safety had always been prioritised as health experts and governments gathered information about the virus and its effects, particularly during those early stages when much was “unknown”.

“The ACT’s response to COVID-19, in particular, has been one of the best in the world. It’s a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved when a community works together to keep each other safe,” the Health Minister said.

The ACT Government said it will undertake a formal review at an appropriate time, and separately, a report on the public health emergency is expected to be tabled early next year.

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In the last week, the Territory has recorded 731 (298 PCR and 433 RAT) new COVID-19 infections, up from 579 cases recorded last week.

As of yesterday, there were 43 people in hospital with the virus, including one in the ICU. No one requires ventilation.

Active cases in the ACT have not been reported since mandatory isolation ended two weeks ago.

Since March 2020, 208,495 infections have been recorded.

Of the Territory’s five to 15 population, 77.2 per cent have received two doses of vaccine; 78.4 per cent of those aged 16 and over have received three doses; 61.1 per cent of those aged 50 and over have received four doses.

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Health’s weekly epidemiological report – which covers the week ending 23 October – showed almost 19 per cent of positive tests were repeat infections – a percentage expected to rise.

The number of PCR tests conducted declined during this reporting period, but the test positivity rate increased to 8 per cent.

That number has been trending upward since early October. Test positivity peaked at 28 per cent in early July this year.

Test positivity for RATs cannot be calculated, despite health authorities urging greater reliance on rapid antigen testing.

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In the last week, NSW recorded 10,050 new cases (4459 RAT and 5591 PCR) and 16 people died with the virus.

There are now 820 COVID-19 patients in the state’s hospitals and 25 people in ICU.

Victoria recorded 8537 cases and 51 pandemic-related deaths.

The state’s seven-day rolling average for hospitalisations was 172 patients and six people in the ICU.

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This is laughable. One of the world’s best COVID responses. All of the excessive quarantining, quadruple masking, etc. And here we stand, with the same outcome as everyone else in the world.

So you morbidly think it was laughable, that Australia managed, before there was a vaccine, to reduce the number of deaths, to have a far lower death rate than many other countries, by putting safety measures in place. The measures saved live.
No, we didn’t have the same outcome as many other countries. We had far lower numbers of deaths for the same number of people. Your comment is ignorant.

CaptainSpiff8:44 pm 29 Oct 22

@Maya123 , you are presumably unaware of the excess mortality figures for Australia since Covid arrived in the country. Search for “ABS Provisional Mortality Statistics” and read it yourself on the ABS website. Australia has done no better than other countries.

Now we are vaccinated and most of us have a better chance of survival if we catch Covid. I had a quick scan of that link and I did not see any mention of age of death from Covid. (Quick scan; could have missed it.) One difference from before is that now older people are less protected; not still on lockdown, and old people are more vulnerable to dying from Covid, even if vaccinated (it gives some protection). The increase of deaths could be due to that. Also mask wearing has been reduced to almost no mask wearing.
What do you expect now with everything opened up and masks mostly not being worn, that we would still be different to the rest of the world? Be realistic!
The restrictions worked when they were needed, when deaths and suffering would have been far larger, and the struggling hospitals would have been overwhelmed without those measures. In some western countries hospitals were so overwhelmed, dying people couldn’t get admittance and died. We avoided that by bringing in tough restrictions. Another side effect of so many people sick at once in some countries, there was not enough oxygen. The restrictions worked when they were needed. Now, with people vaccinated and we have opened up, there is nothing unexpected.

Next, dismantle or shift the underused and unnecessary ‘Garran Surge Centre’. Restore the oval and return it to the kids of Garran Primary. These kids and the local community had to sacrifice their sports activities while the ACT government was in panic mode and deserve restitution.

The ACT government participated in what will be looked back on as one of the biggest crimes of the twenty-first century. They do not get cookies for it just because almost every other government in the world did the same thing.

Steven Green4:50 pm 28 Oct 22

Can you elaborate on these crimes you acuse the ACT government of committing?

To predict a world where saving people’s lives and preventing the meltdown of our entire health system, as being seen as one of the biggest crimes of the 21st Century, doesn’t say a lot about your view of humanity.

They stole our humanity. Life isn’t about the quantity of life, but the quality. What matters is the relationships and interactions we have with others. This is why solitary confinement is considered one of the worst punishments you can inflicted on a person. They stole a mother being there for their daughter’s first child after a difficult pregnancy. They stole being there for a dying friend. They stole the chance for love from the young. They stole *life*.
If you think the “meltdown of the health system” is a concern, then you have society’s purpose completely backward. The health care system, and by extension, government’s purpose is to service us. We are not here to serve the government or the health care system. If the health system never reaches capacity, then we have, by definition, too many resources in it. (If you want to argue the current government has destroyed the health care system, then I won’t argue, as I’m currently seeing how bad it is.)

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