ACT contact tracing days behind amid surging Omicron cases

Canberrans who know they have interacted with a COVID-19 case are expected to make their own judgment about whether they are a close or casual contact, with strained contact tracing teams taking days to notify people.

The ACT has changed the testing requirements for fully-vaccinated close contacts as the capital again had a record number of new cases.

Another 189 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday, more than double the 71 cases announced on Boxing Day.

Nationally, the number of new cases exceeded 10,000 for the first time.

Meanwhile, calls are growing for PCR testing requirements for interstate travel to be scrapped in favour of rapid antigen tests as testing sites struggle to keep up with high demand.

The under-stress NSW testing system was engulfed in chaos yesterday when almost 1000 people in Sydney previously told they were negative learned their results were premature or wrong.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said people may hear from the infected person or an event organiser before ACT Health can notify them of the exposure.

"You'll be able to make a judgment about what you think you're going to be classified as and I would definitely say if you think even that you would be classified as a casual contact, then the prudent thing is to go and get a test," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Canberrans have been advised by staff from the contact tracing team that they were two days behind in investigating confirmed COVID-19 cases and contacting their close contacts.


The territory has changed the testing rules for fully-vaccinated close contacts so they are able to exit quarantine after seven days if they get a test on day five after exposure and do not have symptoms.

Ms Stephen-Smith said some people won't be notified that they were a close contact until day four after exposure.

"In that case, you can choose to wait and delay your initial test until day five and then if that test comes back negative, you'll be able to leave quarantine at the end of day seven."

Close contacts will be expected to minimise their movements for a further seven days and get another PCR test on day 12 or 13 after exposure.

Canberra testing sites trialled a new system to cope with the massive demand.

Rachel Stephen-Smith said close contacts may find out from the case themeselves or an event organiser before the ACT Health contact tracing team notifies them of an exposure. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Rachel Stephen-Smith said close contacts may find out from the case themeselves or an event organiser before the ACT Health contact tracing team notifies them of an exposure. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Garran and Mitchell testing sites were open to only close contacts, people with symptoms or recently returned international travellers between 11am and 3pm.

People could get a test for any reason at the Kambah drive-through clinic or outside the priority hours.

The Health Minister said the government had considered having a dedicated site for travellers, however it was difficult to select a site as only Garran was suitable for very young children.

"We do think about the options that we have available to us but... there's no solution that's going to address the imbalance of demand versus the workforce that we have available to us."

Ms Stephen-Smith said on Boxing Day, more than 3860 swabs were taken by ACT Health and Capital Pathology staff. She said as of noon Monday they had completed 1580 tests.

She said Canberrans should not go to Queanbeyan Hospital to be tested as that site was also at capacity in recent day.

There were 688 active cases of COVID-19 in the ACT at 8pm Sunday. One person was in hospital because of COVID but they were not in the intensive care unit.

Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry said rising case numbers were expected to continue over the holidays.

"We knew that there would be fluctuations in these numbers, and we're expecting to see that over the Christmas and new year period and that's because of the increased movement of people around our city," Ms Berry said.

She also said Canberrans needed to wear masks properly inside and not around their neck like a necklace.

"I've noticed it myself, that people are wearing it around their necks like a necklace. That is not going to work as COVID is in our community," she said.

New South Wales recorded it's first death linked to the Omicron variant the state recorded another 6324 cases and two other deaths.

Mandatory QR check-ins and density restrictions were reintroduced in NSW on Monday after they were scrapped less than two weeks ago.

Ms Stephen-Smith said authorities were watching NSW hospitalisations closely. Further restrictions were not planned for the territory at this point but it could change as the situation evolves.

"We will be ready to act if we think we need to to ensure that our health system is appropriately supported."

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This story Canberrans urged to use own judgment as contact tracers swamped first appeared on The Canberra Times.