The greatest risk to Canberra from Sydney’s Covid outbreak has passed, the ACT’s Chief Minister has said as mask requirements are to be relaxed.
Andrew Barr said he was surprised that Canberra had not recorded any cases but warned that Canberrans should not toss away their masks just yet.
Health authorities will still strongly encourage use in high-risk settings including public transport.
ACT’s announcement is despite Sydney and surrounds facing an extended lockdown, while regional areas also remain under some restrictions including mandatory face masks.
ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman won’t hesitate to reinstate a mask mandate should the territory be under threat of COVID-19, adding the past week had proven it could be enforced within hours and result in high take-up.
“The concern over winter is that a lot of people spend a lot more time indoors [which] can get a bit crowded, a lot of the time you can’t properly socially distance,” she said.
“Getting used to using masks, particularly in indoor high-risk settings is a really useful thing.
“I won’t hesitate to stand that up in the future if I feel we need that extra protection.”
Dr Coleman had also expected a new case to emerge in Canberra, thankful the past week came and went without notice.
“One of the reasons for being comfortable lifting the [mandate] now is the risk of seeding and hence, transmission, has backed right off, because we’ve had a really good response to our stay-at-home orders,” she said.
“We’ve had very high levels of testing and we’re not picking up anything.
“If there is undetected transmission [and] we think the risk of that might be ramping up … that’s when masks can add some value.”
The mandate requiring people in the ACT to wear a face mask in most indoor settings, including retail and public transport would be lifted at 11.59pm on July 9.
Mr Barr said the greatest risk for Canberra from the Sydney outbreak had passed.
He said he was “pleasantly surprised” the ACT had not recorded a case particularly as 25,000 people over the past two weeks had signed declarations to say they had been in Sydney or surrounding regions.
“That risk period from the Sydney period has now passed [but there] still remains a level of risk,” he said.
“At this point, we are in a better position than we were two weeks ago in terms of the risk profile.”
Mr Barr said limited movement between the ACT and Sydney had also contributed to the decision by the territory’s Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman to lift the mask mandate.
However, Canberrans are still being encouraged to wear masks in certain situations, such as public transport, crowded shopping centres or waiting in a queue at a busy restaurant. But Mr Barr said it was a personal decision.
“Most people have taken a very responsible approach here and have sought to avoid crowds for months now,” he said.
“Others have a slightly different approach to living with a pandemic.
“The message to everyone here is that use your common sense. Assume there is still a level of risk, it’s lower than two weeks ago but there is still a level of risk and behave accordingly.”
ACT Health imposed a mask mandate from June 28 in response to the outbreak of the Delta strain in Sydney, and had aligned with requirements in regional NSW.
Stay-at-home orders will still apply to any ACT residents who have been in Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong in the past 14 days. This has been extended to July 16, mirroring Sydney’s lockdown.
Mr Barr said about 6400 people were under stay-at-home rules after visiting Covid affected parts of Sydney in recent weeks but that number was slowly decreasing everyday.
Mr Barr said while the situation in Sydney remained a concern, the NSW government had made the “right decision” to extend lockdown for a week.
“What this means in the ACT, similar to regional NSW, we’ve not seen the seeding of the virus outside the greater Sydney area,” he said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian extended the lockdown of Sydney and surrounds for a week until at least July 16.
A further 27 new locally acquired cases in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.
“This Delta strain is a game changer – it is extremely transmissible and more contagious than any other form of the virus that we’ve seen,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“The reason why the NSW government has taken this position is because we don’t want to be in a situation where we are constantly having to move between lockdown, no lockdown, lockdown, no lockdown.”