Politics

ACT to pause restrictions as authorities assess Omicron threat | The Canberra Times


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The ACT will hit the pause button on the consideration of further restriction easing as authorities seek to understand the risk posed from the Omicron variant. No cases of the new variant of concern have been confirmed in the ACT, however close contacts have been identified in Canberra from a Qatar Airways flight on which two passengers tested positive. Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said authorities were still urgently trying to get in touch with those people, who she said numbered fewer than five. There are also fewer than 15 people in Canberra currently in quarantine who have returned from one of the nine countries in southern Africa which have been deemed high risk. The ACT reintroduced stricter quarantine rules for international arrivals, requiring anybody who arrived in the territory after 11.59pm on Saturday to go into quarantine until 11.59pm on Tuesday. Territory health authorities are currently reviewing whether that quarantine period will need to be extended. Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT government was set to receive advice from chief health officer Dr Kerryn Coleman on whether the territory would follow NSW next month in removing density limits and dropping mandatory QR codes in some venues. “We’re just holding off on considering any of those measures at this point in time, sticking where we are at the moment until we have some further information,” Ms Stephen-Smith said. “We’re not expecting to see public health restrictions increasing at this point in time, but neither are we currently considering any further easing of restrictions.” Ms Stephen-Smith said people should not panic. “At this point in time, I would say to people, continue to go about your lives, we will monitor very closely and the ACT health authorities will be monitoring very closely any developments in relation to this new variant,” she said. Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was too early to tell what impact the new variant would have, but said it was appropriate to be cautious about international travel until more information emerged. “We need more information about the nature of the new variant, how infectious it might be, and what sort of disease it might cause in humans,” he said. “And whether our existing, exceptional vaccination coverage will provide us with protection.” READ MORE COVID-19 NEWS: The Australian Technical Advisory Group is reviewing the six-month booster shot timeline in light of the emergence of the new strain. Ms Stephen-Smith said on Monday afternoon it was a rapidly evolving situation, but she had not received advice about a shortened booster time frame. “One of the things that we don’t know for sure about the Omicron variant is whether or not that variant does imply vaccine escape, or that the vaccines are not going to be as effective against this variant of the virus,” she said. “If that is the case that could potentially then lead to different decisions being made about vaccination.” Ms Stephen-Smith said authorities would also closely monitor vaccine efficacy, particularly over winter in the northern hemisphere. “Even without this variant, we’re seeing increased case numbers in Europe as they go into winter [and] we’re seeing the potential for vaccine efficacy to wane,” she said. “This is why it’s really, really important for all Australians, but particularly for Canberrans, to ensure you book in and get your booster shot as soon as you’re eligible to do that.” Our coverage of the health and safety aspects of this outbreak of COVID-19 in the ACT is free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support. You can also sign up for our newsletters for regular updates. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:

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