Borders stay open – despite SA Health recommendation to close

The SA Government has opted against reimposing hard border restrictions on the eastern states – despite conceding it was advised to do so by the state’s chief public health officer – but will impose new “speed bumps” on people entering South Australia.

Dec 04, 2021, updated Dec 04, 2021
The State Government will not reimpose border restrictions on the eastern states - for now. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

The State Government will not reimpose border restrictions on the eastern states - for now. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

A media conference this morning was highly anticipated after News Corp reported overnight that the State Government was expected to reimpose border bans on arrivals from New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, beginning Monday at 7am.

But an emergency meeting of the state’s COVID directions committee this morning opted against that action, instead imposing some minor new impositions on people entering the state.

“There will not be any immediate change to our borders,” Premier Steven Marshall told reporters this morning.

But he announced “two additional speed bumps” designed to slow the potential for the Omicron variant – labelled a variant of concern by the World Health organisation – entering the state.

All people coming from NSW, Victoria and the ACT must now be tested on arrival in SA and isolate until a negative test is returned.

That’s in addition to having to return a negative test within 72 hours of departing their home state for SA.

Further, if they remain in SA for more than six days, they must undertake another test on day six.

“We’re going to try to put as many speed bumps in the way of the Omicron variant as possible,” Marshall said.

He also said the Omicron situation would be reassessed daily, with border closures still a live possibility – although he was adamant 24 to 48 hours’ notice would be given before such action would be taken.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier did not directly answer questions about whether the decision went against her recommendations, but SA emergency coordinator Grant Stevens then confirmed: “I think it’s been made pretty clear that border closures were a very real consideration.”

“I’ll put you out of your misery – Professor Spurrier came to the directions meeting with a recommendation to close borders, as the most risk-averse position we could take,” he told reporters.

However, he said the meeting instead arrived at “a consensus decision”.

“The directions committee has come to a decision at this point… that we are continuing to monitor [the situation],” he said.

“I didn’t say we haven’t followed the health advice – Professor Spurrier’s position was that the best and most effective way to eliminate the threat of Omicron was to close borders.”

However, he said, “in the absence of more detailed information” about the new strain, a decision was taken to instead “enhance testing and surveillance, which is what we’re doing”.

As of late yesterday, the state had recorded 35 new cases in the first nine days since the hard border was lifted on November 23.

But Spurrier, who confirmed this morning there had been further COVID cases recorded overnight – with details to be confirmed later today – insisted any border closure would be only due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

“I think the important thing is to look at what information we currently have about Omicron – we do know it is rapidly becoming the most prevalent strain in South Africa [but] it is very early days,” she said.

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“Clearly when you have something that is unknown the lowest risk is to try and keep it out for as long as possible.”

However, she said “what we are trying to achieve in our state is high levels of vaccination”, while “South Africa has a vaccination rate of only 40 per cent”.

“What we are seeing is a high rate of reinfection in South Africa with the new strain,” she said.

“We still have a lot of things unknown about this variant [so] you could go to one extreme and go the most risk-averse [option] and try to keep it out as much as you possibly can by having hard borders…

“That would be the most risk-averse situation and it’s my job to provide the information that’s at hand and the directions committee will judge what risk we have in SA for having that [strain] here, versus the fact that we’ve moved on in our community, we’re getting extremely well vaccinated and we’re enjoying the fact that we can now travel interstate and have our relatives visit here.”

Asked whether her advice was to close borders again, Spurrier said: “What I would like to say is there’s a range of people on the directions committee, and I’m not going to go through who decided to provide which bit of information – I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

“It’s my role as CPHO to get the best information I can, and to provide it not just to the directions committee and the Premier but also to the people of SA,” she said.

Spurrier also revealed SA Health authorities had been seeking to contact “five to seven” people believed to have entered the state who were on an overseas flight with a passenger who subsequently tested positive to the Omicron variant.

She said the “whole flight has been deemed by NSW as a close contact” and “we can’t just assume everyone has stayed in NSW and Victoria”.

“There were either five or seven people we were trying to locate from that flight,” she said, noting that almost all had been contacted.

“I think there might be one person outstanding,” she said.

“The most important thing is they had negative test results, and that’s something I’ll follow up later today.”

Today’s announcements came as Queensland today imposed its own restrictions on SA travellers, with that state’s health authorities declaring any arrival who has been in Greater Adelaide since 1am on November 28 must enter home or hotel quarantine for 14 days.

That follows WA shutting its border to South Australian travellers and the Northern Territory declaring the state a ‘red zone’ since the state’s border restrictions eased last week.

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