ACT will begin a seven-day lockdown on Thursday night, with Canberra’s first COVID case in a year threatening to postpone federal parliament.
Some politicians decided to leave Canberra early on Thursday afternoon, despite Parliament continuing to sit and recommendations they stay in the ACT instead of heading home.
“This is the most serious public risk that we have faced in the Territory this year, really since the beginning of the pandemic,” chief minister Andrew Barr said, announcing the snap lockdown.
“Immediate and significant public health responses are needed to get ahead of this Delta strain.”
Mr Barr said the territory would begin a strict shutdown from 5pm, with only the standard essential reasons to leave home – shopping for essential supplies, healthcare, essential work, and one hour of exercise each day.
Most shops will close and food outlets will be allowed to serve only takeaway. Canberrans must wear masks at all times when leaving the home, including when outdoors, except for when exercising.
The ACT is entering a seven day lockdown from 5pm tonight, 12 August 2021. This is a result of a COVID-19 case being identified in the community and positive wastewater detections reported overnight. The lockdown will remain in place until 5pm Thursday 19 August 2021. pic.twitter.com/8TPOrBFEgX
— ACT Health (@ACTHealth) August 12, 2021
Canberra’s new case is a young man in his 20s, who had been infectious in the community. ACT chief health officer Kerryn Coleman warned the man visited “a large number of venues”, including bars, a church and popular stores.
ACT Health has already listed several potential exposure locations from August 8. The man has a partner, who has been placed into quarantine pending test results.
TND has been told the lockdown could affect the next sitting of federal parliament. Parliament’s current sitting period finishes on Thursday, with a week off before politicians are due to return for another fortnight from August 23.
Despite concerns Thursday’s sitting could be abandoned, with expectations many politicians would wish to return to their home state before the 5pm lockdown begins, both chambers continued to sit.
However, some MPs did decide to leave Canberra early, rushing to get home before the lockdown.
Mr Barr said it might make sense for MPs to remain in the ACT ahead of the next sitting fortnight.
“The starting principle is you want your democracy to continue to function, but it really must be done in a safe way,” he said.
“I think it is too early to say at this point what the next parliamentary fortnight will look like, and whether it may or may not need to be postponed.”
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tony Smith, told politicians at the start of question time that they were classed as ‘essential’ workers, and could continue to attend Parliament House.
The building has been under far stricter COVID rules than general Canberra society, including face masks inside and restrictions on indoor seating. Most political staff were told not to travel to Canberra for this sitting, while there were also capacity limits on the number of politicians in the chambers.
Many politicians from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane also did not travel to Canberra, due to lockdowns in those cities.
There were discussions earlier this week about condensing the parliament sitting calendar, to eliminate the free week between sitting fortnights and instead to sit for four weeks straight. It is unclear what the Canberra lockdown will mean for the August 23 sitting period.
TND has contacted the Prime Minister’s office for comment.
Federal government support for individuals and businesses will be extended to the ACT.
The ACT has so far avoided any incursions of the virus, despite being surrounded by the NSW, which is in its seventh week of a lockdown to stem its Delta outbreak.
— Tegan George (@tegangeorge) August 12, 2021
Supermarkets and essential retail will remain open, but ACT residents rushed to stock up soon after news of the lockdown began circulating.