ACT government will buy rapid COVID tests from NSW, encourage workers to stay home to slow Omicron variant spread in Canberra

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Picture: Karleen Minney
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Picture: Karleen Minney

The ACT will buy about 1 million rapid COVID-19 tests from NSW at cost next month, ahead of further efforts to secure the scarce diagnostic kits as reliance on laboratory tests for coronavirus is wound back.

Workers in Canberra will also be encouraged to work from home, with ACT health authorities eager to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community before the majority of people can get their third vaccination dose.

The ACT government will work with the NSW government on the details of the rapid test purchase, and will also consider further co-operation with other states to buy rapid antigen tests.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he was comfortable the new nationally agreed definition of a close COVID-19 contact struck the right balance.

"It directs the available resources to the areas of highest risk," Mr Barr said.

The ACT would focus on limiting community transmission while it runs another large vaccination campaign, Mr Barr said.

"What we're looking to do over the next three months is another 350,000 doses: boosters for all the adults and a primary course for five- to 11-year-olds," he said.

The ACT now has more rapid antigen tests on order in preparation for changes to testing requirements for COVID-19, as the Omicron variant drives a rapid increase in the number of infections.

There were 253 fresh COVID-19 infections reported on Thursday, a record day for the ACT, with 1134 active cases now identified.

Six people were in hospital in the ACT with the virus but no one was in intensive care.

Mr Barr said the new close contact definition agreed on Thursday - which will mean many people previously classed as close contacts would no longer be required to isolate or get tested - would still allow local authorities to designate attendees of certain high-risk events as close contacts.

"You get pretty good info reasonably early about whether you've got a significant transmission event, and the nature of people who are attending. Just as we triaged the vaccination program around aged care and other vulnerable settings, you continue to have that approach," he said.

Mr Barr said he supported the decision of national cabinet that no state or territory would offer free rapid COVID tests on a wide scale.

"I think if you're having five people over for dinner and you want them to have a [rapid antigen test] before they come into your house, that's a private matter that you and your guests would have to pay for. But if you require a test for any public health reason, that would be publicly covered," he said.

Work is under way to identify where rapid antigen tests would be made available in the ACT for those who are required to use them under new settings agreed by national cabinet on Thursday.

"There will clearly be an outreach program. For vulnerable community members, we'd seek to work with community sector partners. They'll be in education setting environments," Mr Barr said.

Mr Barr also announced on Thursday the ACT government would now ask people to work from home where possible in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the territory, where it works for the employee and their employer. "The ACT public service has taken the lead in flexible working arrangements throughout the pandemic. As Canberrans return to work in January, we are asking other employers to support their employees to work from home where possible," he said in a statement.

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"While many employees will need to return to the workplace to meet business needs or for their own wellbeing, working from home where possible will help to reduce transmission while we continue to learn more about the impact of Omicron - not just in the ACT but across Australia."

Speaking to The Canberra Times, Mr Barr said the government would consider the need for economic support on a week-by-week basis, but the current level of restrictions did not demand extra stimulus.

"We'll see where this variant goes. If it follows a similar path to South Africa, we might see a peak of cases in the next couple of weeks, and then it starts to reduce. We just don't know," Mr Barr said.

"In relation to the economic impact, well, look, certainly at this time of year there are businesses that are closed. Whilst there's never a good time for there to be economic disruption, right at the moment there aren't a lot of people in offices this week or next anyway."

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This story ACT will buy rapid tests from NSW, encourage staff to work from home first appeared on The Canberra Times.