Statement on National Cabinet Meeting 20 January

National Cabinet met again today to further discuss pandemic management. The agenda included the epidemiology of the omicron wave, the vaccine rollout, health system capacity, essential workforces, isolation periods and the national back to school framework.

Pandemic management

The ACT’s broad public health objective continues to focus on reducing community transmission and disease through strong vaccination programs and public health measures such as mask mandates, density limits in venues and restrictions on high-risk settings. These measures are combining to reduce pressure on our hospitals and protect those most vulnerable.

Omicron outbreak epidemiology

Case numbers have remained high in the ACT. Self-declared positive Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) have been publicly reported since 14 January 2022. High vaccination rates and the less severe illness associated with Omicron mean the average length of stay for patients hospitalised due to COVID-19 is around two days. A small number of patients require ICU care. Most of these patients report they are either unvaccinated or have had only one dose of a vaccine.

Health System Capacity

Our hospitals are busy with COVID-19 patient numbers having risen to around 60 in recent days. This is consistent with CHS internal modelling indicating the ACT has likely now reached the peak of this outbreak and should start to see a decrease in case numbers in coming weeks.

More than half of our COVID-19 positive inpatients are in hospital for a reason other than COVID-19, with many of these asymptomatic or experiencing only mild symptoms. In recent days, COVID-19-specific admissions have eased from 8 per day to 5 per day.

Today the TGA provisionally approved two new oral treatments, Lagevrio® and Paxlovid®. This is welcome news, these treatments have been found to be effective in treating people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who have a high risk of progressing to severe disease, reducing admissions to hospital and ICU and potential death.

Vaccination

The ACT continues to lead the nation on vaccinations. 37.9% of children aged 5-11 have been received a first dose since 10 January, the highest proportion of any jurisdiction in the nation. Nationally, the coverage is around half of that at 20%.

34.7% of eligible Canberrans (18+) have already received their third dose of a vaccine, again we well ahead of the national coverage. Anyone who is eligible should make their booster booking as soon as possible, this is the best defence against the omicron variant, it remains the best way to prevent serious illness and reduce transmission and disease.

Today the TGA granted provisional approval to Novavax vaccine, it will be given in two doses administered three weeks apart and is anticipated to be available by early March.

Pfizer’s booster vaccine for 16 and 17 years olds is currently under assessment by the TGA.

Testing

In the last week around 44,000 Rapid Antigen Tests have been provided to Canberrans at Kambah, Mitchell, and Garran testing centres. Over the same time nearly 10,000 PCR tests were conducted.

RATs have been in use at Kambah, Garran and Mitchell. Integrating the distribution of RATs at our COVID-19 testing clinics has significantly reducing the wait times for PCR tests at both the Mitchell and Garran. The use of RATs is now a part of our ongoing testing strategy.

There are now 23 types of approved RATs, including some that will be produced domestically, this will help with supply into the future.

Schools and Early Childhood Education and Care

The ACT Government is planning for students to return to on-campus learning when Term 1 begins, with arrangements similar to those at the end of last term.

Our schools will always prioritise the safety of students and staff, while continuing to provide the best possible education to our children and young people.

The ACT Education Directorate is working closely with ACT Health and education stakeholders to plan for the return to school and will provide full details as soon as these plans are finalised.

Essential Workers

Sensible and safe measures to alleviate workforce shortages have been supported but allowing 16-year old’s to drive a forklift was unanimously rejected by all States and Territories at today’s meeting.

The ACT Government continues to work closely with employers, industrial representatives and the NGO sector to ensure that workplaces remain safe, with further guidance to be made available in the coming days.

National Cabinet will meet again next Thursday 27 January.

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