COVID-19 prompts Public Health Emergency

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A Public Health Emergency was declared for the ACT on Monday 16 March in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation across Australia.

This is the first time a Public Health Emergency has been declared in the ACT and allows the Chief Health Officer to take any action, or give any direction, considered to be necessary to protect Canberrans and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the ACT.

The Public Health Emergency is in effect for a period of five days, with potential to extend, and follows the Federal Government’s announcement on Sunday 15 March that all people arriving in Australia are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

The National Cabinet, which met on Friday 13 March and again on Sunday 15 March, also endorsed the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to further introduce social distancing measures. This includes the requirement that non-essential, organised public gatherings of more than 500 people should not occur.

The ACT Government said on Monday 16 March that at this stage there is no requirement for schools to close; however, it is recommended that they suspend sports carnivals and large concerts, consider postponing school fetes and other events, and begin postponing excursions.

More broadly, the governmental advice has seen the Australian National University announce they will stop all non-essential public and social events on ANU campuses until the end of semester one, Saturday 20 June; the National Film and Sound Archive has made the decision to cancel its education programs, as well as on-site screenings, exhibitions and special events until 30 April. The building will not be open to the public during this period; and the Canberra Comedy Festival has also cancelled.

Locally, there have been two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the ACT. The first case was confirmed on Thursday 12 March, with a second positive test result confirmed on Sunday 15 March. Both confirmed cases are males in their 30s.

ACT Health is continuing to take appropriate public health action in line with national guidelines.

With regards to the second confirmed case of COVID-19 in the ACT, it is believed the individual was exposed to the virus at a private event in NSW.

The community is advised that there were two public locations where the individual was during the infectious period. Exposure is considered to be very low, however, Canberrans who were at the Art Not Apart event in New Acton on Saturday 14 March at 4-5pm and Capital Brewing Co in Fyshwick at 5-6.30pm are asked to be aware and to monitor their health.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include: fever; flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat or headaches; or difficulty breathing.

While the ACT has recorded two confirmed cases of COVID-19, as at 12pm Tuesday 17 March, 1,389 people have tested negative so far.

People who are concerned and want further information on the virus, can call the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For general health information about novel coronavirus, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, visit the ACT Heath website: www.health.act.gov.au