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Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts

ACT ‘not in a race’ to wind back health directions

Several Australian jurisdictions, including NSW, have recently made changes or adjusted health directions and restrictions without guidance from National Cabinet.

ACT Health Minister, Rachel Stephen-Smith, said while the ACT Government is constantly evaluating the situation as it evolves, they won’t be racing to wind anything back.

“Every day we have these conversations about what we are seeing in our own community … Just as it wasn’t a race to take other measures earlier on, it’s not a race to ease restrictions,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the easing being done in NSW and Queensland is actually stepping their health directions and regulations back into line with what currently exists in the ACT.

“NSW has a direction around staying at home that has been pretty tightly interpreted in terms of the reasons that you’re allowed to leave home,” she said.

“The ACT doesn’t have a stay at home direction; we have the two-person gathering direction, but the stay at home was always strong guidance.

“People were allowed to leave home to gather in groups of two, to sit around and have a picnic in the open space, not necessarily to exercise.”

Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government will be working through any potential changes to health directions and regulations over the coming days.

“No one should get their hopes up that we’ll be gathering in large numbers any time soon, but of course we will continue, as other jurisdictions have, to look at some the measures we have in place, and look at how we will ease restrictions going forward.

“Things like opening national parks are the kind of things we would be considering in that context, but again, it’s not a race. We’re thinking about what’s the most appropriate thing for the ACT and what that timing looks like,” she said.

‘Plenty more capacity’ for local COVID-19 testing

Last Friday, ACT Health expanded the COVID-19 testing criteria to accommodate anyone with coronavirus symptoms, such as a fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, or any of the other related upper respiratory tract symptoms.

There were 804 tests conducted at the Weston Creek walk-in centre and at the EPIC drive-through over the Anzac Day long weekend.

Ms Stephen-Smith said while rates of testing increased significantly in the ACT over the weekend, ACT Health still have “plenty more” capacity.

“We really want to understand if we are seeing undetected cases of COVID-19 in our community.

“You may think it’s a very, very slim possibility you have COVID-19, and indeed it is … but in being part of this broad surveillance testing regime, you’re actually helping the whole community.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the data gleaned from more tests will help the government in making decisions about where to go next in terms of easing restrictions.

“Part of the capacity to ease restrictions going forward is ensuring that we have excellent testing and surveillance capability, and excellent contact tracing capacity.

“This is part of a broad suite of measures that will enable us to make changes moving forward.”

On top of the public testing, in the last few days Laverty Pathology has commenced operating a drive-through sample collection service at Weston.

People who wish to attend the private COVID-19 testing service require a referral from their GP, which is not required at ACT Government’s Weston Creek walk-in centre or at the EPIC drive-through.

Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts