Thousands of Canberrans clog COVID hotline with contact questions

Lottie Twyford 22 December 2021 24
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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24 Responses to Thousands of Canberrans clog COVID hotline with contact questions
phydeaux phydeaux 9:57 am 24 Dec 21

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.

Abbie Allardice Abbie Allardice 10:59 pm 22 Dec 21

Yay! I’m one of them - a statistic that is. For the curious folk: yes, I have tested covid-positive and yes, I am double vaxxed (since August). I am currently in a quarantine facility at ANU. Please chill everyone - this is not a death knell. COVID is a virus, we are well equipped to fight it (vaccination).

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 9:33 pm 23 Dec 21

    Abbie Allardice stay well and all the best Abbie.

    What I still don't get is why a fully vaxxed person still needs to quarantine for 14 days?!

    So illogical and contradictory for the reason (and push) to get vaccinated...

Christopher Cuba Rabanal Christopher Cuba Rabanal 9:20 pm 22 Dec 21

First Contact 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

Ash Cassar Ash Cassar 8:19 pm 22 Dec 21


"Thousands of Canberrians calling hotline due to lack of information on ACT health website "

Gillian Southwell Gillian Southwell 7:40 pm 22 Dec 21

Can be tested at seiffert oval Queanbeyan

Gina Dow Gina Dow 6:42 pm 22 Dec 21

When I phoned the other day on a weekend the poor phone operator told me there were only two of them answering calls. ACT Govt needs to step up and spend some money on human labour.

    Jason Metz Jason Metz 6:59 pm 22 Dec 21

    Gina Dow 😂 sorry shouldn’t laugh but ACT Govt spend money that doesn’t suit their agenda? Now that’s 🤣

    Gina Dow Gina Dow 7:10 pm 22 Dec 21

    AND they spin us weasel words about employment for women…

    Christine Evans Christine Evans 9:54 pm 22 Dec 21

    Gina Dow Quick question where exactly are they going to find this extra human labour to employ? Maybe you think all the human labour currently employed should have their Christmas leave cancelled so they slave for you?

    Lara Zangl Lara Zangl 7:25 am 23 Dec 21

    Christine Evans exactly, it's not like there is a surge workforce sitting around at home waiting for the call up...!!

    Lara Zangl Lara Zangl 7:28 am 23 Dec 21

    Gina Dow hmmm I had staff on Christmas leave last weekend; silly me....??

    Gina Dow Gina Dow 8:36 am 23 Dec 21

    They short-staff their call centres all year.

Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 6:13 pm 22 Dec 21

Maybe if they would've improved their website to make it easier to find this information and add more detail they would not have that many people calling?

I tried to find information for a friend who was a casual contact and wanted to know if her house mates needed to get tested and quarantine a few months ago and their website did simply not have any advice for that scenario. She ended up having to call to find out.

It's not that hard to predict the questions people need answered?

    David Newman David Newman 6:38 pm 22 Dec 21

    Lin, I am sure that they are doing their best. It’s actually quite hard to predict ALL the questions that people would like answered, because there are so many permutations and combinations to consider. Have you emailed ACT Health with your suggestion?

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 6:50 pm 22 Dec 21

    David Newman But it's logical that the largest group of people affected by outbreaks would be those on the fringes? The smallest group is close contacts, casual contacts is an exponentially larger group. But then those casual contacts often have numerous people they live with or have been in contact with before they found out they were a casual contact. That is the largest group. Who pose a pretty low risk but nevertheless need to get advice on what their responsibilities are.

    It's all about the 80/20 rule. By offering detailed advice for that large group of close/casual contacts of casual contacts, they would be able to focus on the minority of the smaller groups who can't find the answers they need.

    That's just an example...

    And I too am sure they are doing their best. We've been very lucky to have ACT Health do what they do. But they need someone to hire an information expert to help with improving their website with the aim to avoid people having to call. It would save so much money and time.

    Caroline Loffler Caroline Loffler 7:58 pm 22 Dec 21

    As far as I am aware and everything thst I have been told is that you only need to be tested if YOU were at a casual contact location. So if housemates were not there, they don't need to be tested. But you should maintain your distance while waiting for the result.

    Abbie Allardice Abbie Allardice 11:03 pm 22 Dec 21

    Lin Van Oevelen : get on with living. You’re overthinking this and are a victim of media hysteria. I’ve got covid, I’m in quarantine in the ACT, I’ve done all the right things (incl, double vax) - and I’m not dead!! Amazing, true.

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 11:51 pm 22 Dec 21

    Abbie Allardice What does that have to do with the covid helpline being overwhelmed? What does this comment even add to this conversation?

    Hope you recover soon.

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 11:52 pm 22 Dec 21

    Caroline Loffler My point is that this advice is nowhere to be found on the COVID website. Not when I checked anyway. It would be hugely helpful if that was clearly written somewhere easy to find.

    Abbie Allardice Abbie Allardice 12:23 am 23 Dec 21

    Lin Van Oevelen ACT Health have done a wonderful job - given the circumstances. I rang to enquire as to whether I could 'catch COVID again' given the strains (Delta to Omicron etc.) They were unable to advise as they were yet to find out - it moves by the hour/day/week. My son is yet to get a test (being a close contact) given the masses of folk seeking tests. I urge you to be patient and kind. We are lucky to have good, educated people handling this in the ACT (which is 1000x better than my experience in NSW). I too had my doubts - and frustrations (like you seeking information for your friend) - it was bloody awful. Not being able to get answers when you need is distressing but please know you and your friends will be ok :-)

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 7:06 am 23 Dec 21

    Abbie Allardice This was months ago and didn't affect me personally. I was just pointing out that improving their website would go a long way to reducing the volume of calls they have to deal with.

    It was not criticism on ACT Health staff. They have indeed been doing a wonderful job.

    Lynn Nicholas Lynn Nicholas 7:36 am 23 Dec 21

    Lin Van Oevelen I have found that if you direct message them or email them ACT Health does get back to within a few days. As you can imagine they are swamped. Haven’t even had time to draw breath since the last lockdown before Omicron ramped up. If it was me I would play it safe and be cautious.

    Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 3:42 pm 23 Dec 21

    Lin Van Oevelen we had a lot of difficulty with their website and the advice given over the phone. None of it was consistent and or helpful. Someone above asked you if you told them the issues with the web page...well we did give feedback but I doubt they took any notice, any more than they did with the answers to questions they asked... I am sorry if others are offended but not everyone has had a butterfly and raibow experience with how ACT Health has handled things. I understand your frustration.

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