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ACT records 1,039 new COVID-19 cases as positive RAT results become accepted proof of infection in the territory - ABC News

The ACT has recorded 1,039 new cases of COVID-19.  

Key points:
  • There are 27 COVID-19 patients in Canberra hospitals, the highest daily number so far
  • Canberrans no longer need a PCA test to confirm a positive RAT result 
  • Pharmacies say rapid antigen tests will remain in short supply this week

Twenty-seven people are in hospital as a result of the virus, the highest daily number of the pandemic. 

Four people are in intensive care, all of whom require ventilation. 

There are now 5,766 active cases of the virus in Canberra.

More than 98.5 per cent of Canberrans aged 12 and older have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 20.3 per cent of Canberrans aged 18 and older have received their booster.

The vaccine rollout to children aged five to 11 years begins tomorrow, and ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said more than 12,000 young Canberrans were booked in to receive their first dose at an ACT government clinic.

"That accounts for around a quarter of the children who are eligible in the population," she said.

"We know that about 50 per cent of people, or children, will choose to go to their GP or pharmacist.

"So, it looks like within the first couple of weeks we'll definitely be reaching 50 per cent of that population."

Positive RAT now accepted as confirmed COVID-19 infection

Canberrans who test positive for COVID-19 using a rapid antigen test (RAT) now no longer need to have a follow-up PCR test to confirm their result.

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

The ACT government made the official change overnight after national cabinet agreed on Wednesday to accept positive RATs as confirmed COVID-19 infections.

But ACT Health is still developing its online form for Canberrans to register RAT results.

In the meantime, ACT Health is asking people to take note of the date they tested positive so they can complete the form once it becomes available.

A Check In CBR push notification will be sent to let people know when the system is up and running, and Canberrans have been encouraged to ensure their device allows notifications from the app.

A generic image of a Rapid Antigen Test packet, a swab, a small dropper bottle, and the test itself laid out on a blue surface.A generic image of a Rapid Antigen Test packet, a swab, a small dropper bottle, and the test itself laid out on a blue surface.
Rapid antigen tests are hard to find in Canberra, with limited stock expected to be delivered to pharmacies this week. (Flickr: Jernej Furman)

Acting Health Minister Chris Steel said accepting rapid antigen tests without the need for a PCR test would save Canberrans time and effort.

"This change will also reduce the pressure on our laboratories and testing clinics which should help with turnaround times for those who don't currently have access to a RAT or require a PCR test," he said in a statement.

"RATs are becoming more available, and we know that significantly more are arriving later this month."

RATs to remain scarce in Canberra this week
Man wearing white coat in a pharmacy. Man wearing white coat in a pharmacy.
Simon Blacker is urging Canberrans to be patient when it comes to sourcing RATs. (ABC News: Dave Sciasci)

But sourcing a RAT for now remains difficult, with only sporadic deliveries to Canberra pharmacies over the past week.

Simon Blacker from the ACT branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia said supplies were unlikely to improve this week, with only limited stock set to arrive.

"Pharmacies across Australia, and no doubt other retailers of rapid antigen tests, are making phone calls every day trying to find a place to get some more and it is just very difficult to have any guarantee when next supplies will arrive," he said.

Mr Blacker urged Canberrans to be patient as pharmacists "did everything they could" to find tests and meet the unprecedented demand.

"There are a lot of people who are quite anxious in the community … and we understand that, and we're doing our very best to help the community, but people are going to need to be patient," he said.

A pink sign with a printed warning that says 'sold out of COVID rapid test kits'A pink sign with a printed warning that says 'sold out of COVID rapid test kits'
Pharmacies are struggling to source rapid antigen tests. (ABC News: Owen Jacques)

Mr Blacker also reminded concession card holders that free RATs were not yet available to them in the territory.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday that concession card holders would be entitled to free tests through pharmacies, with a maximum of 10 to be provided over three months.

"We just need people to understand that pharmacies are waiting on more details for this program," Mr Blacker said. 

"There is no ability to access free rapid antigen tests through community pharmacies in the near future until we have more information, and the government makes further announcements."

Postponing elective surgeries 'unlikely to be enough'
A hospital bed, surrounded by emergency equipment.A hospital bed, surrounded by emergency equipment.
Modelling predicts COVID-19 related hospitalisations in Canberra could reach 60 this week. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

The ACT Government is hoping increased use of RATs will eventually ease pressure on testing clinics so those staff can be redeployed to help the health system cope with rising COVID-19 hospitalisations.

With modelling predicting the number of people in hospitals in Canberra could reach 60 this week, the ACT government also moved on Friday to delay category two and three elective surgeries at Calvary Hospital.

Karen Grace from Canberra Health Services said the move should free up more than 50 bed days which would help Calvary Hospital accommodate more COVID-19 patients.

"And if we can get testing under control, that will definitely help us," she said.

With more than 230 healthcare workers in quarantine across the ACT due to COVID-19, Ms Grace said Canberra Health Services was constantly looking for opportunities to redeploy staff to areas in need.

But Matthew Daniel from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT said, that while postponing elective surgeries was a good first move, it was "no panacea" and more needed to be done.

He said redeploying GPs and walk-in centre staff to the pandemic response should be considered, along with calling on the private sector.

"That might be buying beds in the private system and maybe there are staff that work part-time in the private system that might be able to be contracted to the public system short term," he said.

Mr Daniel said healthcare staff were anxious about the level of care patients were receiving.

"The system, of course, has been under stress for some time and it's not possible to stand up the necessary, highly-skilled workforce overnight," he said. 

"And it's also on a background of literally hundreds of roster shortfalls across both [Canberra Hospital] and Calvary Public."

Ms Grace acknowledged that health staff were "tired" after two years of dealing with the pandemic.

"However, as we always see, whenever we ask our staff to step up, they do that," she said.

"They are incredible and every day our staff just go that extra mile in order to ensure that the care that is required by the people of Canberra is able to be provided."

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