The ACT government is reintroducing an indoor mask mandate and a limit on visitors to aged care homes, in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
- The ACT government is reintroducing an indoor mask mandate for the territory
- Visitors to aged care homes will also be capped at five per day
- Health authorities hope the new restrictions will slow the spread of the Omicron variant in the community
From tomorrow, Canberrans must wear a mask in all indoor settings, including public transport — a measure that was dumped on November 12.
Visitor caps have also been reintroduced for ACT aged care facilities.
Aged care residents will be restricted to five visitors per day, with a maximum of five at any one time. There is no limit to visitors for end-of-life residents.
ACT acting chief minister Yvette Berry said the new restrictions were in response to the “escalation of Omicron cases” in the territory.
“These requirements will be in place over the Christmas and the New Year period and they will be reviewed in January,” Ms Berry said.
“The chief health officer has been giving us great public health advice throughout this pandemic and this decision has been made to keep us all safe during the summer holiday period.”
Today’s announcement comes 24 hours before national cabinet meets to discuss the country’s rising Omicron cases.
Restrictions ‘difficult’ but necessary
The ACT has recorded 103 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days, after recording just 37 the week before.
ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said 62 cases have been confirmed as the Omicron variant, and that today’s announcement was a “common-sense step”.
“I know this has been a long year for everyone and this is not the news we wanted to be sharing so close to Christmas,” Dr Coleman said.
“The unexpected emergence at this time of Omicron is posing an increasing risk to our community, and this is why we are introducing these measures.
Dr Coleman conceded aged care restrictions were “tough”, but necessary to protect vulnerable Canberrans.
“I know that this is a difficult time of year to be reinstating visitor restrictions, but this change is about striking the right balance between mitigating the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in our aged care facilities and looking after a social wellbeing,” Dr Coleman said.
The territory joins Tasmania in reintroducing a mask mandate — South Australia has maintained an indoor mask mandate for months.
Queensland has strongly encouraged residents to wear masks in all indoor settings, but has only mandated it at certain venues.
On Monday, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory were still considering whether to implement a mask mandate in all indoor settings.
Testing demand pushes centres to capacity
Today, the ACT recorded 16 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total active cases in the territory to 124.
4,516 negative test results were received in the 24 hours to 9am today.
High testing numbers have been recorded for several days now, and health authorities have attributed this to families getting ready to to travel interstate, and close contacts of local COVID-19 cases.
The surge in demand led to hour-long waiting times at testing sites on Monday morning; by Monday afternoon all four testing sites in the ACT had wait times of more than 90 minutes.
Ms Stephen-Smith said testing demand was equal to that at the height of the ACT’s Delta variant outbreak.
“The last update [received] had waiting times of less than two hours across most of our sites. Staff are redirecting people when there is a significant backlog at one site.
“People are also queuing before a site opens, and when that happens there is already a long wait when it opens.”
The testing site in Mitchell was temporarily closed on Tuesday morning, after reaching capacity before 11am.
Cars were turned away and told to visit the nearby testing site at Nicholls.
Ms Stephen-Smith urged Canberrans to check the ACT government’s social media sites before deciding which testing site to go to.
Health authorities also said they would no longer carry out genomic sequencing on new local infections to determine which variant they carried.
“Where someone tests positive for the Omicron variant, and then the household contacts become infected, it’s safe to assume that [they] will also have the Omicron variant,” Dr Coleman said.
“We won’t stop sequencing completely, but what we will do is prioritise how we sequence moving forward and there’ll be different aims that we want to achieve by sequencing infections.”