Canberra’s coronavirus cases plummet to 10 as the city records its first new infection in eight days


April 21, 2020 06:00:50

The number of Canberrans known to be infected with COVID-19 has dwindled to 10, with just one new case of the disease confirmed in the past eight days.

Key points:

  • Of the 104 confirmed cases, three people have died and 91 have recovered
  • Only one new case of COVID-19 has been announced in eight days — a man in his 40s who contracted coronavirus overseas
  • On Monday the head of ACT Health resigned with effectively no notice to return to Melbourne

ACT chief health officer Kerryn Coleman said the latest patient, a man in his 40s, acquired the virus overseas, like the vast majority of the city’s 104 cases.

She said there was little chance he had infected others, saying there were “no public exposure risks that we need to let you know about”.

Dr Coleman also praised Canberrans for helping to contain the coronavirus outbreak, saying that by complying with rules on physical distancing they were “helping to save lives”.

“This pandemic is still ongoing and large gatherings are still dangerous for our society,” Dr Coleman said.

“With another long weekend coming up I again ask people to be responsible and to stay at home.”

Of the 104 cases in Canberra, 10 remain affected by the respiratory illness. One of those cases is in hospital but does not need intensive care.

The disease has killed three Canberrans.

ACT Health chief quits ‘effective immediately’

Despite the good news on the number of cases, the head of ACT Health, which oversees the city’s health administration, quit yesterday with almost no warning.

Michael De’Ath had held the job for about two years, but left abruptly to return to Melbourne to be with his family.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith announced his departure by praising his contribution.

“I know just how deeply devoted Michael is, particularly to his daughters, and he’s indicated in his message to staff that each of this three daughters has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way.”

She had “been having conversations” with him last week, “but it was short notice”.

“I think, obviously this last month has been very difficult for everyone,” she said.

ACT Health has had a turbulent past decade. Several inquiries had been held into allegations of bullying, harassment and overcrowding at the hospital, though not under Mr De’Ath’s leadership.

In 2018, when the health department was split into two separate agencies, ACT Health’s newly appointed chief, Janet Anderson, quit after just three days.

Another top executive, Nicole Feely, had quit earlier, when the restructure was announced.

Asked whether Mr De’Ath had resigned because of the Government’s approach to the epidemic, Ms Stephen-Smith said he had “not conveyed that to me”.

“People move on and leave jobs at different times for different reasons, but he’s been very clear about his desire to return to Melbourne to be with his family,” she said.

The Australian Medical Association’s ACT president, Antonio Di Dio, said the departure was “very surprising to me … absolutely out of the blue”.

Dr Dio said Mr De’Ath’s role was “unbelievably challenging” yet he had improved the agency’s culture markedly.

“From a personal view, we were very respectful adversaries for the first year he was here … but I totally respected him at all times and had nothing but the highest regard for the manner in which he conducted himself.”

ACT Health is now separate from the agency that manages hospitals, which is Canberra Health Services.

Widespread community infections unlikely

To date, only one person in the ACT is known to have been infected with the disease by an unknown source.

That man, later revealed to be federal Labor politician Ged Kearney’s father-in-law, died earlier this month.

Some sections of the community have expressed concern that many Canberrans may be infected with COVID-19 without knowing it, given the lack of widespread testing.

However, the Government said this scenario was extremely unlikely, as large numbers of people with the disease would be visible in other ways.

As well as testing, one gauge of whether the disease is spreading is the number of patients in hospital with pneumonia or severe breathing problems.

“One of our testing criteria since very early on has allowed treating physicians to test patients who are being hospitalised with acute respiratory infection or unexplained fever of 38 degrees Celsius or greater,” an ACT Government spokesperson said.

“This has been one of our methods of surveillance, along with the testing of healthcare and aged-care workers, people who live and work in high-risk settings, and more recently random testing of symptomatic people who present for testing but do not otherwise meet the criteria.”

The Government recently expanded coronavirus testing to include health and aged-care staff who feel sick.

Hiring spree targets casual, semi-skilled workers

Meanwhile, the ACT Government announced it would recruit a range of people who lost their jobs as a result of the epidemic, or who were otherwise “significantly affected” by it.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the campaign would target Canberrans “most in need”, especially those who were ineligible for Commonwealth support programs.

He said the jobs would be in “areas as diverse a cleaning, administration, customer service, administration, customer service, fire recovery, restoration, garden and building maintenance”.

“We are both the local government — the council — as well as the state government, so we have a very wide range of needs across our employment fields,” Mr Barr said.

“These jobs will be undertaking important work for our community at this time.

“But we have specifically targeted these new jobs to give hope to people who do not have access to any of the Australian Government payment.”

People interested in applying can find out more at the Jobs for Canberrans website.

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First posted

April 21, 2020 05:59:33

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