The 2021 Canberra Citizens of the Year were announced today, Thursday 18 March, with the award going to all those who have enacted the ACT’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the Albert Hall ceremony, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr thanked the group that includes thousands of Canberrans for their flexibility and resilience.
“Throughout 2020, these Canberrans have undertaken our COVID-19 testing, tracing and quarantine,” he said.
“They have cared for patients, established and run multiple testing sites to conduct over 100,000 COVID-19 tests; managed 15,000 exemptions requests, supported COVID-19 compliance, and kept our community well informed throughout the pandemic.”
He also thanked those involved in the ACT vaccination program, which will enter phase 1b on Monday 22 March.
Mr Barr was particularly grateful to those who quickly analysed information and advised on the public health response, “often under extreme pressure with very tight turnarounds”, including ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman and her team.
Representatives from ACT Walk in Centres, ACT Pathology, and the Access Canberra COVID Compliance Team joined Dr Coleman and ACT Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston on stage to accept the award on behalf of the individuals and teams whose work helped protect the Canberra community during the pandemic.
ACT Pathology scientist Lynette Chairuka, who works in the molecular lab, said it was phenomenal to have her team’s work recognised by the award.
She remembered the first days of the COVID-19 outbreak vividly.
“We knew we had to start the testing,” she said.
“I think on that day, we did like 50 plus [tests], and from then onwards, numbers just skyrocketed – it was just crazy.”
The lab that once operated a typical eight-hour day now works around the clock on a 24-hour roster.
“We had to just rise to the challenge, we knew we had to do what we had to do.”
Dr Coleman said she was “incredibly proud” of the vast number of people who were involved and worked with “such passion and care in their hearts” over the past year.
“I hope that they’re proud of themselves,” she said.
“It has been a year unlike any that we’ve experienced, and a steep learning curve for everyone.
“And I think we’ve all stood up to the test and actually come an incredibly long way.”
Dr Coleman thanked the community for coming along for the ride and cooperating, and for their friendly smiles when they spot her out for coffee on the weekend.
It’s been a big year for the CHO; when she does get downtime, Dr Coleman said she tries to switch off with a walk or ride around the lake.
“I do have a bike that’s collecting a little bit of dust.”
Previous Canberra Citizens of the Year include ACT Emergency Services Agency and ACT Parks and Conservation (2020), the University of Canberra Capitals and their supporters (2019), disability advocate Sue Salthouse (2015), and the Canberra Community after the January Bushfires (2003).
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