Die Australian Capital Territory will go into lockdown after recording a locally acquired Covid-19 case for the first time in more than a year.
The chief minister, Andrew Barr, announced a seven-day lockdown from 5pm Thursday after a man in his 20s tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday morning.
ACT authorities had detected Covid fragments in wastewater late Wednesday night and the positive case prompted swift action from the ACT government.
“This is the most serious public health risk that we have faced in the territory this year,” Barr said on Thursday.
Kerryn Coleman, the chief health officer, said the source of the case was unknown at this stage, adding to health authorities concerns. She said she suspected the case is the Delta variant and originated in Sydney, but that had not yet been confirmed.
“Right now we have no source or link for this case," sy het gese. “This is one of the reasons why we are going into a lockdown for the next seven days.
“We conducted an intense investigation looking back through the days that we thought he was exposed to identify where this has come from. We are getting the whole genomic sequencing and [behoort] have that by lunchtime tomorrow.”
Masks will again be mandated in the ACT and general retail will be closed.
Hospitality venues will only be able to operate takeaway services, and residents can only leave their homes for essential reasons, including for healthcare, groceries, supplies and up to one hour of outdoor exercise.
Essential employees will also be allowed to leave their homes.
Parents are being told that if they can keep their kids at home, they must. Public schools will be open only for kids of essential workers, vulnerable residents or those who cannot otherwise have their children at home.
“The virus only transmits when people move around and come into contact with each other, so the objective here is to reduce the movement of people and to reduce the transmission potential of this outbreak,” Barr said. “That is why we are going into a lockdown.”
Contact tracing has so far identified 14 potential exposure sites, including city nightclubs, a Pentecostal church and a popular discount retail centre.
People who attended those sites over the weekend are being asked to get tested and isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.
The man had been using Canberra’s check-in app “religiously”, owerhede gesê.
A new testing centre will be set up near Canberra airport and capacity at the two existing testing sites will be expanded.
“We have said throughout the outbreak in greater Sydney that we would act quickly and decisively,” an ACT government statement said.
“We have seen that a short and immediate lockdown limits the potential spread of the virus, and is the best path to avoiding longer and more damaging lockdowns.”
The ACT has higher vaccination rates than the national average, particularly among older age cohorts. Barr said those high vaccination rates would aid the response.
“That does help, but at the moment we have a first dose rate of over 50%, and a fully vaccinated population around 27-27.5%,” he said. “That is still nowhere near where we need to be.”
The ACT has not recorded a locally transmitted Covid case since two people returned from Melbourne on 8 Julie 2020, passing it on to three others. The last recorded locally transmitted case was on 10 Julie 2020, and Canberra has experienced only one five-week lockdown – in April last year.
The ability to keep Covid-19 out of the territory, which at some points has been surrounded by locally transmitted cases, has surprised and impressed public health experts.
Even Barr himself has conceded the territory’s fortunes were in some part down to luck. In the first weeks of the Delta outbreak in NSW, tens of thousands of people in the ACT declared they had been in greater Sydney.
A mask mandate was introduced briefly on 28 Junie, but was relaxed on 9 Julie, when no cases emerged.
Barr said he’d been “pleasantly surprised” at the lack of Covid-19 in Canberra.
“That’s a combination of good management and good luck. Luck can turn, wel,” Barr said earlier this year.
The ACT has since strictly limited movement between affected areas in NSW and Canberra.
But it has also been considering whether to implement a regional bubble with nearby regions of NSW, which were not affected by Covid-19. Asked whether he should have acted earlier on such a bubble, Barr said: “If the thought was that you could somehow have a perfectly sealed Canberra bubble, that was never possible," hy het gesê.
“So that is why we planned for this scenario … as I have said countless times when asked that question, it would not, and will never provide absolute protection against a virus of this kind.”
The ACT government released a Covid roadmap last month to serve as a guiding document for how it will deal with outbreaks.
Die document says the ACT will generally enter what it describes as a “pause and assess” phase when cases emerged.