Surgeons are calling on the ACT government to urgently introduce mandatory testing for all elective surgery patients to prevent a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 in the territory.
They say it's likely there will soon be community transmission of COVID-19 in the territory, if it isn't already occurring.
But the government has rejected the plea, saying the risk does not warrant the measure.
Chairs of the ACT branches of the Australian Society of Anesthetists and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons say testing of all patients would help stop of spread of the virus within Canberra's hospitals and the wider community.
"Were an asymptomatic, but COVID-19 positive, patient to be admitted for a surgical or therapeutic procedure, it is highly likely this would lead to the infection being passed on to various healthcare workers," their submission to a government inquiry said.
"Even if these measures prevent just one COVID-19 positive patient being admitted inadvertently for elective surgery, this will possibly result in reduced transmission and potentially lives being saved.
"As employers, we also believe hospitals throughout the ACT have a strong occupational health and safety obligation to their employees, and limiting potential workplace acquired transmission of COVID-19 by pre-operative screening of surgical patients is a necessary requirement, particularly in this environment of increasing community viral prevalence."
The submission said clinicians had discussed the strategy with Capital Pathology, which confirmed it would be able to meet the demand for increased testing.
The doctors said it could be dangerous for patients to have surgery while carrying the virus, even if they did not have symptoms.
"Studies have shown that patients who are asymptomatic but COVID-19 positive and inadvertently present for elective surgery, can have a subsequent mortality rate of up to twenty percent, even when the surgery is relatively minor," the submission said.
"Patients who are asymptomatic, but who are about to become symptomatic, can be shedding a high viral load, and as such represent a high risk of viral transmission to other patients or healthcare workers."
Dr Imogen Mitchell, who leads the ACT's clinical response to COVID-19, on Friday told a public hearing that while there was no evidence of community transmission in the ACT, testing was not necessary for all surgery patients.
"When you're doing a test you really need to have some understanding of what the risk of them being positive to that test is," she said.
"At the moment .. if the patient does not have symptoms the likelihood of them testing positive ... is extremely low."
Dr Mitchell said patients were screened before surgery, with high-risk patients, such as those who have visited hot spots, tested.
She said she also had reservations about the study the clinicians referred to, which suggested an increased death rate during surgeries for asymptomatic virus patients.
Melbourne recently introduced mandatory testing for all elective surgery patients, as it battles to contain an explosion in coronavirus cases.