Why easing COVID-19 restrictions must be managed carefully

Released 29/05/2020

Attributable to ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman:

“Today I have signed the new Public Health Directions that will come into effect at 11.59pm to enact our move from Stage 1 to Stage 2 of the ACT’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions this weekend.

Through sheer hard work, and a little bit of luck, the ACT has been able to flatten the curve.

Over three weeks have passed since our last active case, there has been no evidence of community transmission, and we have had over 17,000 COVID-19 tests conducted in the ACT.

All of this means we are now able to further ease restrictions in a way that is best suited to the unique circumstances of our city. However, we must not move too quickly if we want to maintain the very good position we find ourselves in.

The public health control measures that have been in place in our community, and all over the country, have been highly successful in slowing the growth and limiting the spread of COVID-19 cases. Although these measures have unfortunately seen a number of businesses and industries impacted, and much-loved social activities halted, the last couple of months have provided critical time to allow our health system to prepare to manage people who become unwell with this disease. We are also well prepared to detect, test, isolate and treat any new cases of COVID-19.

As we now move to easing these restrictions, many people and businesses are wanting to know more about what influences our decisions on when and how to ease certain restrictions and how we assess the public health risks linked to these.

The evidence tells us that the movement and gathering of people who do not know each other are the greatest risk to outbreaks of an infectious disease like COVID-19. That’s why reopening of multiple businesses and facilities and recommencing social and sporting activities all at once, or moving too quickly, poses potential significant public health risks for our community.

As we see people moving about their daily lives more freely, there is a cumulative effect of larger gatherings, multiple social networks, more interactions and more co-mingling that we need to monitor carefully.

In addition, we look closely at our ability to contact trace and how we would respond if there was a new case, or a cluster of cases, as we do not want outbreaks. This would see us needing to consider reimplementing certain restrictions in order to control the spread again.

We want Canberrans to be able to return to their normal lives as much as possible while ensuring there are appropriate measures in place to keep everyone in our community safe and healthy. But easing restrictions must happen in a gradual way. We know that three to four weeks between stages is a good amount of time to wait because this is one to two full incubation periods for the disease – time that will give us the ability to detect increasing risk or cases.

In regards to easing restrictions for businesses, we have to take a lot of factors into consideration, including the fact that some business activities and services pose a slightly higher risk. This is because they might involve groups of people coming together often, people moving in and out of a business facility more often, there might be multiple surfaces people touch within a business, or there may be close contact between people. As a result, it is important these businesses continue to operate with restrictions that mitigate the public health risk for the time being. It’s also why, our plan has a number of check points along the way to assess and ensure the safety of the community before moving onto the next stage.

As we progress through our plan, we will remain alert, continue to monitor our progress and keep the community up to date.

I am very confident that the ACT is prepared and well placed to manage COVID-19 moving forward. However, I want to remind Canberrans that our progress relies on everyone continuing to play their part.

Every Canberran has a responsibility to maintain physical distancing and practice good hygiene measures. If you are sick, then please stay at home. If you have symptoms, then please get tested at one of the ACT’s testing venues.

These principles have not changed and are the best way to keep our community safe.”

To read about all of the changes coming into effect from 11:59 on Friday 29 May 2020, read the latest restriction FAQs.

- Statement ends -

Section: ACT Health Directorate | Media Releases

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