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Call to increase Covid-19 testing rates in Canberra

Canberra residents should get tested for COVID-19, ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman recommended today, after viral fragments were found in Belconnen wastewater last week.

The positive detection was found in a sewage sample collected on Wednesday (27 January) from a testing location that covers wastewater from Aranda, Belconnen, Bruce, Charnwood, Cook, Dunlop, Evatt, Florey, Flynn, Fraser, Giralang, Hall, Hawker, Higgins, Holt, Kaleen, Latham, Lawson, Macgregor, Macquarie, McKellar, Melba, Page, Scullin, Spence, Strathnairn, and Weetangera.

“There remains no evidence to date to suggest the positive wastewater detection is an undetected active case or community transmission in the ACT at this point,” Dr Coleman said.

“However, we do continue to urge anyone who lives in, works in, or has recently visited the Belconnen area to get tested for COVID-19, even if you are experiencing only the mildest of symptoms, and to self-isolate until you receive a negative test.”

This was particularly important for people who have recently travelled outside the ACT.

Three hundred people have already been tested; Dr Coleman said this was a “pleasing response”, but not at the level she wanted to see: 700 to 1,100 people a day.

“Can people in the Belconnen areas please, any symptoms at all, turn out to get tested?” Dr Coleman implored.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of smell or taste, while less commons symptoms include runny or blocked nose, muscle pain, joint pain, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.

“Testing is crucial in the immediate response to a positive wastewater detection,” Dr Coleman said. “If there is an active case we are unaware of, we need to identify this quickly to enable our public health officers to swing in and mount a response.”

Encouraging people to get tested was a challenge around Australia, Dr Coleman said. “I think we’ll go through these peaks and troughs. When there’s a case and when there’s a scare, I think everyone will step out and get tested, and then we’ll become a little bit complacent. But from my experience, the ACT community does step out and does get tested when asked to.”

Coronavirus outbreak in Western Australia

The ACT Government has also closed its borders to Western Australia, after a quarantine hotel security guard in WA tested positive for COVID-19 this weekend. The man is believed to have been first infectious in community from 25 January.

The WA government has declared a five-day lockdown for the Perth metropolitan area, Peel, and south-west regions of the state until the evening of Friday 5 February.

In response, the ACT Government has declared a new public health direction for WA.

Anyone who has been in WA since 25 January must immediately self-quarantine and get tested for COVID-19 – and should remain in quarantine (regardless of a negative test result) until 9pm on Friday 5 February.

People already in the ACT who are affected by these restrictions have 24 hours to apply for an exemption.

People who wish to travel for extraordinary reasons (compassionate reasons, essential work) need an approved exemption from ACT Health. This includes WA parliamentarians.

ACT Health had developed a strong process for managing expected numbers from NSW, so Dr Coleman was confident the agency could manage the smaller number from WA.

An outbreak in the ACT was unlikely, Dr Coleman thought. The ACT has a different hotel quarantine system to WA; only one flight is permitted at a time, while all quarantine workers are saliva-tested each day.

For more information on getting tested, visit covid19.act.gov.au/stay-safe-and-healthy/symptoms-and-getting-tested.

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