Restrictions would remain in place throughout a difficult spring period in an effort to buy more time to vaccinate unprotected Canberrans against the virus, Chief Minister Andrew Barr says.
The ACT recorded 14 new cases of COVID-19 to 8pm on Wednesday, all of which were linked and only one was infectious in the community for a short period of time, giving health authorities confidence the person presented a low public risk.
Nine people have been hospitalised with COVID-19, including an unvaccinated woman in her 40s who remains in intensive care at Canberra Hospital, where she is receiving breathing support.
Mr Barr said management of the Covid outbreak risk would be needed over the next three months.
"Our vaccination rates, whilst nation leading, are still not sufficient. And so we have a very delicate balancing act over the next three months to step out safely of lockdown - gently, as the epidemiology allows - but still protecting our community against the risk of the virus coming back in and sparking another outbreak," Mr Barr said.
Cabinet was due to meet on Thursday afternoon to consider further health advice and ongoing public health restrictions.
Mr Barr said the ACT was set to achieve national vaccination targets ahead of other states and territories, and only gentle steps toward relaxing restrictions could be taken in the meantime.
"That will provide us with protection when the nation eventually opens up more fully in the summer. What we need to do now is restrict the interaction between people as much as possible," he said.
Deputy chief health officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said the lockdown was working and case numbers on Thursday meant Canberrans could be cautiously optimistic about the trajectory of the outbreak.
"The number of cases we're now finding in quarantine and the number of cases infectious in the community are trending the right way. So in quarantine is going up and infectious in the community is going down," Dr Johnston said.
Dr Johnston said most post-lockdown exposure sites were identified where people had been out for essential shopping, while wearing a mask and in short periods, which presented a low risk of transmission.
"We're really encouraged by that," she said.
Dr Johnston said the effective reproduction rate in the Canberra outbreak was below 1, meaning most cases were not infecting another person with COVID-19.
But the situation in NSW would present an ongoing challenge to the ACT, and Dr Johnston said there would need to be stringent controls on people coming from Sydney to the ACT for some time.
There are still eight unlinked cases in the Canberra outbreak, which has grown to 190 cases. Investigations are continuing into the origins of the outbreak, in which the overwhelming majority of cases are aged under 45.
The ACT government is facing growing calls to allow more businesses to continue operating during the lockdown, with the powerful ACT branch of the CFMEU on Thursday calling for the construction industry to be reopened.
Mr Barr said changes to ongoing restrictions would be announced on Friday and the ACT government had good engagements with individual businesses and industry groups on how to reopen industries safely.
"Every decision that eases [the lockdown], and sees more interaction and more movement of people, slightly increases the risk. So the question is, what level of risk are we prepared to take? We have to make some very difficult decisions to balance that," he said.
"The counter position here is that we take too much, and allow too much activity, then case numbers will increase again and we have to go back into a lockdown, a hard lockdown."
Mr Barr said the balance between the risk of opening up and keeping tight restrictions in place would need to be managed throughout the spring period.
"No one's doing this for fun. No one wants to be in this position. What we need to do over the next three months is buy the time that the unvaccinated need to get vaccinated," Mr Barr said.
"And the unvaccinated at the moment is 60 per cent of Canberrans over 12 years of age. That's a lot of people. That's a lot of people we're protecting. That's a lot of mums, dads, brothers and sisters, kids, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, work colleagues."
Mr Barr said just over 37 per cent of the Canberra population aged 12 and over had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccination.
The Chief Minister said people aged 12 and over, rather than just 16 and over, would be included in the ACT's 70 and 80 per cent vaccination targets, as outlined in the plan adopted by national cabinet.
"There remains a high degree of uncertainty about what we're going to face locally and what will play out around us in NSW and across the nation," Mr Barr said.
"As much as I would like to give absolute certainty on particular dates, we simply can't. We don't know what's going to transpire. All we can do is plan and prepare and reduce risk, and that's exactly what we're focused on."
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