The Delta strain has made targeting zero COVID cases unrealistic in the ACT, one of its leading doctors concedes.
But Canberra Hospital infectious diseases physician Nick Coatsworth has also told a Senate inquiry into COVID-19 the territory was in a much stronger position to combat the virus than during its first wave.
Dr Coatsworth said the Delta variant was particularly effective at "getting into the engine room of our cities" and, despite a well-resourced public health system and compliant population, the ACT was finding the strain "extraordinarily difficult" to bring under control.
"I mean, this is the place you would think [could control it] ... and yet we were still seeing numbers of cases between 10 and 20 a day," he said on Tuesday.
"We had our run for as long as we could. I was glad that we had it for as long as we did ... [but] I think the time of zero COVID is, unfortunately, over."
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But Dr Coatsworth stressed a increasing vaccination rates, and "considerably better" treatments for COVID-19 symptoms, put the territory in a stronger position than last year.
He said it was understandable that fears were highest in states where Delta was yet to grow roots, but urged them not to make decisions based on vulnerabilities exposed in 2020.
"It's almost as though you have to have COVID circulating in your community and to get used to it," he said.
"We don't want to see huge amounts of that and the morbidity associated with it. But nor do we want to make our policy decisions based on the reality of 2020, rather than the reality of 2021."
Earlier this month, the ACT became one of the first jurisdictions in Australia to administer Sotrovimab to COVID-19 patients. The treatment, approved for those aged over 55 with mild COVID-19 symptoms, became the second approved to combat COVID-19 after Remdesivir.
Dr Coatsworth said Sotrovimab reduced the chance of intensive care admission by between 60 and 80 per cent if administered within five days of symptom onset.
"It suddenly shines a light on the virus-infected cells [and] prevents further replication of the virus before there's so much in your body that it would start to cause damage in the lungs," he said.
The imminent easing of restrictions, set to come with a spike in cases, has raised fears over the nation's intensive care capacity.
Dr Coatsworth said Canberra Hospital was experiencing "relatively small demand". But he warned hospitals in western Sydney were under strain, also raising concern over the Victorian outbreak's impact on its health care system.
Appearing just before Dr Coatsworth, Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said the nation's intensive care system was stretched before COVID-19 reached Australian shores.
Dr Khorshid said, although there had been improvements, Australia was playing catch-up in preparing its ICU capacity.
"We, as a profession, do want to see society reopened. We want normal to return, but our health system was not ready for this pandemic," he said.
"We have not prepared our system to be able to deal with routine health care while also delivering COVID health care and coping with the effect of endemic COVID."
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has consistently raised concern over hospitalisation spikes, particularly with set to NSW ease restrictions. Dr Khorshid called for a "cautious, slow" reopening to avoid the intensive care system being overrun.
"We are worried that as we open up the cracks in our healthcare system will widen and we face very significant impacts, particularly if we open too fast or go too far ahead of our vaccination," he said.
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