22 December 2021

Thousands of Canberrans clog COVID hotline with contact questions

| Lottie Twyford
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Woman with telephone headset

Anxious Canberrans are calling the hotline to check what they should do after being identified as a close or casual contact. Photo: ACT Government/Access Canberra.

Canberrans wanting a COVID test have been waiting more than four hours to get swabbed and wait times are no better if they called the COVID-19 helpline.

The 6207 7244 helpline, which is open between 8 am and 6 pm Monday to Friday, and 9 am to 5 pm on weekends and public holidays, answers questions about anything COVID-19 related (excluding medical advice).

Information provided to Region Media by a staff member showed that at 4 pm yesterday, more than 3300 calls were waiting to be answered and a further 668 people had hung up.

A spokesperson for ACT Health said most calls over the past few days were in relation to isolation and quarantine rules for close or casual contacts.

“The requests to the COVID Hotline relate to a wide variety of issues,” the spokesperson said.

“Many calls are from those identified as close or casual contacts requesting assistance and advice. This is consistent with an increase in cases.

“There have been no other specific themes identified from calls taken over the past few days.”

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The ACT has recently changed its close and casual contact requirements so that Omicron close contacts no longer have different quarantine requirements from confirmed Delta contacts.

As a fully-vaccinated close contact, you will need to quarantine for seven days after being last exposed to the virus. You must remain in quarantine for this whole time, regardless of any negative test results.

As a close contact, other people in your household need to quarantine until you receive a negative COVID-19 test result.

Once you have received a negative COVID-19 test result, other people in your household no longer need to be in quarantine.

You must have a test as soon as you become aware that you were a contact, then another test on or after day six, with a final test on day 12 or 13.

Although you’re allowed to leave quarantine after day seven (provided you’ve returned negative results), you’re asked to limit your movement in the community and not attend high-risk settings.

People who are not fully vaccinated must quarantine for a full 14 days after exposure.

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Casual contacts must get a PCR test as soon as they become aware they have been exposed to the virus. They must then quarantine until a negative result is received.

Only one test is required if the test is performed five or more days after the exposure. If not, a second PCR test is required on day six or later. You’re not required to quarantine while waiting for the results of the second test.

In all cases, day zero is the day you were exposed to the virus.

You’re also only considered a close or casual contact if you visited the location at the times and dates listed on the website. If you’ve visited at any other time, you’re not considered a contact and are not required to take any action.

Exposure locations are updated – usually twice a day – on the ACT Government’s COVID-19 website. People are asked to monitor this site, as well as their Check In CBR app to keep up to date with the latest exposure sites.

The number of sites listed has grown rapidly in recent days, which authorities foreshadowed would happen as cases rose.

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In September, Region Media spoke to Kaitlyn Birrell who worked on the COVID-19 helpline during lockdown.

Ms Birrell said people often called the hotline to ask whether or not they were in a particular location at a given time, and what they needed to do if that was the case.

At the time, she noted that the call centre team didn’t have any more information about exposure locations than was publicly available on the COVID-19 website.

“Most of the information you need is on the site so it would be good if people checked it before ringing,” she said.

For information about wait times at COVID-19 testing clinics, Canberrans are asked to monitor the updates provided by ACT Health via Facebook or Twitter.

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Nada Krstin, the primary function of the vaccine is to prevent (most likely) your own serious illness and death. It has some secondary benefits in reducing likelihood of symptomatic infection and thus period of infectiousness.
The primary function of quarantine is to prevent infection of other people, having no immediate benefit for you, although there are broader social and economic benefits from everyone being, on average, healthier.
There is no contradiction, just different appropriate actions for different situations and outcomes.

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