ACT Government warns of complacency amid easing coronavirus restrictions, warning there is a ‘risk of going backwards’


When coronavirus restrictions first came into effect in March, the family-run Civic Shoe Repair business was one of those hit hard.

Coronavirus has posed the greatest threat to the store in its 50 years of operation.

“I opened the shop for a few hours per day — I was about 70 to 80 per cent down,” owner Milton Vassiliotis said.

Mr Vassiliotis said he and his two employees were eligible for JobKeeper, and he said that had played a major role in saving his business.

With restrictions continuing to ease in the ACT, he said things were slowly going back to normal.

But if there was a second wave of coronavirus, he believed he would not be able to survive unless government help continued.

“We would try our best with federal and local government help,” Mr Vassiliotis said.

“With that help I think I can survive.”

‘There’s a risk that we will have to go backwards’

A woman in a floral shirt stands in front of a microphone at a press conference.
ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said returning to tighter restrictions would be a last resort.(ABC News: Tom Lowrey)

While a second wave seems unlikely, the ACT Government is not ruling it out — especially since Victoria has seen a recent increase in community-transmitted cases.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews this week tightened the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, citing “significant community transmission”.

Conversely, last week Canberra’s restrictions saw their most significant easing of restrictions to date.

It’s a combination that has led to warnings from the ACT Government, urging Canberrans not to become complacent.

Access Canberra announced earlier this week that the government agency had already issued five written warnings to businesses for breaching COVID-19 restrictions and indicated there were more warnings on the way.

It prompted Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith to warn Canberrans that the territory was not out of the woods and could yet follow in the footsteps of Victoria.

But ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said ramping back up and imposing harsher restrictions would be a last resort.

“Implementing further public health restrictions would be a last step and something that we would really prefer not to do,” Dr Coleman said.

“It is one of the reasons that we are asking everyone to try and continue to do their physical distancing.”

How will we know there’s a second wave of coronavirus in the ACT?

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr drinking a beer at Capital Brewing Co.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr drinks a beer to celebrate coronavirus restrictions lifting.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Dr Coleman said it was not yet clear what a second wave would look like in the ACT, beyond a resurgence of cases.

She said a large part of the work of health authorities would be to examine how many new cases emerged and determine where people had been exposed to the virus.

Dr Coleman said contact tracing would also be the number one priority, identifying any new clusters that appeared and ensuring they were not from community transmission.

“Overseas acquired cases are not what we are concerned about,” Dr Coleman said.

So far there has been no confirmed evidence of community transmission in Canberra.

Is the health system prepared if there is a surge in cases?

A temporary structure built in the middle of a oval
Canberra’s Garran Oval has been transformed into a temporary COVID-19 emergency department adjacent to Canberra Hospital.(Supplied: Canberra Health Service)

Canberra Health Services says it is well-equipped to respond if there is a second wave of coronavirus.

Chief Executive Officer Bernadette McDonald said public and private practices were stocked up on all the necessary equipment, including masks and ventilators.

“We need to have, for the public hospitals, three weeks’ supply of PPE in place at all times.”

Private hospitals have been told to have two weeks’ supply of PPE in place at all times, Ms McDonald said.

She said the $23 million pop-up COVID-19 emergency department on Garran Oval was also ready to be utilised, should the need arise — but it would take two to three weeks to get the staff in to operate at full capacity.



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