Canberrans have been urged not to travel to south-west Sydney “unless it is absolutely urgent to do so” and any ACT residents returning from Campbelltown and Liverpool have been asked to self-isolate.
The message from ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith and ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman yesterday stopped short of issuing a travel ban, instead appealing to Canberrans to use common sense and avoid unnecessary travel.
It was a similar message to the advice given almost three weeks ago about Melbourne hotspots, before community transmission of COVID-19 increased across the city.
“NSW Health is implementing a strong public health response [there] but, at the moment, we are asking Canberrans to please avoid travelling to these areas unless it is absolutely urgent to do so,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“Anyone who has recently travelled to these areas is being asked to be vigilant about their health and to, of course, go and get tested for COVID-19 if you have any symptoms.”
She also singled out patrons of the Crossroads Hotel in Casula between July 3 and 10 and the Picton Hotel in Picton between July 4 and 10.
“If you have not already self-isolated and made yourself known to ACT Health, please do so immediately, as quickly as possible,” she said.
“Get tested even if you don’t have symptoms. The reason for that is to support NSW to identify the source of the outbreak and undertake contact tracing.”
Ms Stephen-Smith urged any Canberrans who had been to those pubs to call the COVID-19 helpline on (02) 6207 7244.
“You will be provided with advice and instructions based on your individual circumstances,” she said.
Interstate travel advice is rapidly evolving
Anyone planning a trip outside of Canberra should keep up-to-date on the latest travel advice from ACT and NSW Health, both Ms Stephen-Smith and Dr Coleman said.
“If you must travel, please keep a record of where you have been, and take appropriate precautions,” Ms Stephen Smith said.
“Maintain physical distance from people you don’t live with, maintain good hand hygiene; wash hands regularly and well.
“Use hand sanitiser when hand washing is not available, practice good cough etiquette and do not go out to public places if you are not well.”
Dr Coleman underlined the point that while there were “clusters of concern” in NSW, they were “quite well contained” with a “strong public health response”.
However, if there was a “risk of community transmission, such as in Melbourne, then we may consider providing further advice about travel restrictions”.
Closing the ACT border would be “an absolute last resort” given the “interdependency in our local region,” Ms Stephen-Smith said, but she would “not rule anything out”.
Dr Coleman said the ACT’s current stance was “proportionate and appropriate to the situation”.
‘Protect the community from the spread’
Ms Stephen-Smith said locally, she was “pleased to report” that Canberra had recorded no new cases of COVID-19 since Friday.
“We are, and remain in, a good position to respond to any new cases,” Ms Stephen-Smith said, citing “an experienced team of contact tracers” supported by “compliance activities” being undertaken by ACT Policing.
Canberra has recorded 113 COVID-19 cases to date, of which five are active — all linked to the Victorian outbreak.
Ms Stephen-Smith said ACT Health had received 880 exemption requests for people travelling from Victoria into the ACT, and had processed 800 of them.
It is understood about 440 people are in self-quarantine.
“I want to thank all those people for what they’re doing to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19,” Ms Stephen-Smith said. “We know it’s not easy.”
But, despite having urged the named pub patrons to be tested, she countered the request that all other Canberrans “only go and get tested if you have symptoms”.
“It is really important that we focus our resources on trying to identify the most likely cases of COVID-19 and that is most likely to be done when people have symptoms,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
Ms Stephen-Smith also reminded Canberrans that the city was “still at stage two” restrictions.
“We pressed pause and didn’t go to stage three,” she said, reiterating this meant only 100 people were permitted in any enclosed space, that group bookings must be a maximum 20 people, and only 10 people were allowed to drink together without food.