Canberra will remain in lockdown for another month, with the Australian Capital Territory announcing an extension until 15 October to ensure the community is not “overwhelmed by the virus”.
As the ACT recorded 22 new cases of Covid-19, the chief minister, Andrew Barr, announced the lockdown would continue beyond Friday, when it was previously scheduled to end.
The ACT government has also promised to extend and expand a range of financial support measures. Despite the extension of lockdown, year 12 students in the ACT are set to return to on-campus learning from the start of term four on 5 October as they enter a “critical time” in their education. Year 12 students, teachers and staff will have the opportunity for priority vaccination before they return.
Barr said on Tuesday the territory was continuing to experience community transmission of the highly infectious Delta variant, and still recording cases where the source of transmission was unknown.
“Without strong public health measures, our community would be quickly overwhelmed by the virus, particularly our unvaccinated population,” Barr said in a joint statement with the health minister, Rachel Stephen-Smith.
“Based on the public health risk that remains in the territory and in our region, the chief health officer has recommended to the government that the ACT lockdown should be extended for a four-week period until Friday 15 October, with some minor amendments to the public health directions.”
Barr was asked during a media conference whether Covid-zero was still possible given the situation in New South Wales, and replied that it “remains a challenge”.
“We are at risk from NSW and we will continue to be at risk from NSW,” he told reporters.
“We will do our best to contain this virus, and we have put in place a set of measures that have been effective in avoiding a Sydney-like situation for Canberra.”
Barr acknowledged getting the public health settings right during the pandemic was “one of the most challenging balancing acts” that governments had had to face – but it was “not a choice between a good option and a bad option”. Leaders were looking for “the least-worst option”.
Under questioning from reporters, Barr said it was “a tough and challenging period for everyone” but the alternative path of opening up too quickly would result in more “despair and misery”.
The ACT government said its priority over the next four weeks would be to vaccinate as many people as possible, as “a highly vaccinated Canberra is a safer Canberra”.
The ACT government indicated it would be in a position to support the gradual easing of restrictions locally as the nation reached the vaccination thresholds outlined in the national opening-up plan.
It said the nation was currently expected to reach the 70% over-16 vaccination milestone in mid to late October and 80% in early to mid November.
The ACT government said when looking to ease restrictions it would consider a range of factors, including local and national vaccination rates and the ACT’s ability to continue test, trace, isolate and quarantine responses.
The deputy chief minister and education minister, Yvette Berry, said year 12 students would return to classrooms from the start of term 4 as they completed their final weeks of school and final exams and assessments.
Berry said all year 12 students, teachers and school staff “will have had the opportunity for priority vaccination before they return”.
Year 11 students may return to the classrooms from week three of term four (18 October) if “health conditions allow”.
ACT students from preschool to year 10 are expected to continue remote learning for at least the first four weeks of term four, due to “the potential for the Delta variant to spread through school-age children”.
The extra financial support announced on Tuesday includes a one-off $200 increase in the utilities concession, bringing it to $1,000, for the 2021-22 financial year.
The ACT government said residential landlords who provided rent relief were eligible for a credit on their residential land tax of up to $100 a week. This measure was extended to 31 December at a cost of $2.2m.