News Coronavirus ACT declares itself free of coronavirus – but stays firm on restrictions
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ACT declares itself free of coronavirus – but stays firm on restrictions

The ACT increased testing in the past week, and has carried out more than 8000 coronavirus tests. Photo: Getty
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The ACT has become the first Australian jurisdiction to claim to have eliminated the coronavirus.

The ACT government confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the last two Canberrans to have the infectious disease had recovered.

The territory had 106 cases of COVID-19 in seven weeks, including three people who died.

Despite Thursday’s good news, ACT Health Minister Rachel Steven-Smith said residents should keep on with coronavirus social distancing measures.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr will announce a timeline for changes to the territory’s restrictions on Friday.

“People now be asking – as they have for a few days – what does this mean in terms of lifting some of the restrictions that we have had in place?” Ms Steven-Smith said.

“It is not a race. We do need to maintain vigilance in relation to COVID-19. We know that this virus and this disease continues to exist in Australia.”

Coronavirus measures have been relatively relaxed in the ACT, including allowing one or two residents to visit other homes.

But schools have been restricted to remote learning, with hubs for students who must attend. Ms Steven-Smith said there would be no “knee-jerk decisions” about returning children to classrooms.

“We again don’t see the need to rush and make knee-jerk decisions and responses to what other jurisdictions might announce,” she said.

“Other jurisdictions are taking different types of staged approaches and that is what we will do, in consultation with teachers and parents.”

The territory stepped up its coronavirus testing last week, and will maintain increased testing following Thursday’s declaration.

Ms Steven-Smith said authorities were expecting a potential second wave of virus infections as restrictions relaxed.

“That is what we have seen around the world – as restrictions have been eased, more cases have come back,” she said.

“[But] that has been largely in situations where there were existing active cases in the community.”

Emerging Victorian cluster sparks fears

In Victoria, a virus cluster in an aged-care home is being investigated, while two dozen hospital staff are in isolation after a patient tested positive.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton said on Thursday extensive testing was being done at the Hawthorn Grange aged-care facility in Melbourne’s inner-east after the cluster emerged.

“We’ve identified those additional cases and tested across the board for residents and staff,” he told 3AW on Thursday.

“[Aged-care facilities] are places where you absolutely need to act down on it immediately and that really means extensive testing, including individuals with no symptoms.”

Victorian Minister for Ageing Luke Donnellan said it was not yet known how many people at the centre might have the virus, or whether residents would need to be moved out.

“It’s very early on,” Mr Donnellan said.

“To date, we haven’t had outbreaks like with NSW. I very much hope that that remains like that.”

The aged-care cluster comes after two dozen staff at a hospital in Melbourne’s west went into quarantine.

A patient who attended Sunshine Hospital’s emergency department and had required urgent surgery last Thursday, when they had no symptoms, has since tested positive to COVID-19.

Victoria’s latest cases bring its total tally to 1361. Its death toll remains at 18.

Victoria’s coronavirus restrictions will remain in place until at least May 11, when a state of emergency comes to an end.

NSW restrictions to ease

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged residents to behave responsibility when the state relaxes some lockdown restrictions within hours.

From Friday, two adults – and their children, if they have them – will be able to make social visits to other NSW households.

“We don’t want to see a huge spike in cases which makes the situation unmanageable and then for us to revert back to what April looked like,” Ms Berejiklian said.

NSW has recorded just two new COVID-19 cases in the past day but the state’s chief health officer said any further easing of restrictions would depend on an increase in tests and good community behaviour.

Dr Kerry Chant said decisions would be based on more people coming forward for testing so the health department could identify and isolate close contacts.

Neither of NSW’s new cases on Thursday came from the troubled Newmarch House, where 12 residents have died.

Anglicare chief executive Grant Millard has said the home is anticipating more coronavirus deaths. On Thursday, he said Newmarch House had been under “extreme pressure” as it tried to manage infections and communicate with residents’ families.

And other states …

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said on Thursday the state of emergency in WA had been extended until midnight on May 13.

Schools went back for term two in WA on Wednesday, with reportedly less than 60 per cent of students turning up. Other measures were also relaxed this week, including the two-person limit on gatherings.

WA has 36 active coronavirus cases, half of them from the Artania cruise ship or outside the state.

Queensland will also ease some virus restrictions from Saturday. Residents will be able to shop for clothes, visit national parks and go on on picnics.

“We recognise that Queenslanders have done a great job in trying to flatten that curve,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

“We also know it’s having a big impact on people’s mental health. We thought we could lift some stay-at-home restrictions.”

-with AAP