Variant’s threat to SA restrictions as quarantine numbers surge

Plans to lift most of South Australia’s restrictions at 90 per cent vaccination will depend on the severity of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, police commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens warns, as the number of people in SA quarantine rapidly approaches 1000.

Dec 06, 2021, updated Dec 06, 2021
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The State Government’s COVID-19 reopening roadmap, released in October, outlines that “restrictions on most activities” will be lifted and borders will open “to all fully vaccinated domestic and international arrivals” once 90 per cent of South Australians over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated.

However, the arrival of the Omicron variant in Australia has already prompted several changes to the plan, including the extension of mandatory quarantine periods for international travellers and new on-arrival and pre-flight testing requirements for interstate travellers.

It also prompted a recommendation from SA Health over the weekend to close the state’s borders to New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT – although this position was not adopted by the state’s COVID directions committee.

The number of Omicron cases in NSW climbed by 10 overnight and now stands at 25.

Stevens, asked on radio this morning whether authorities were still committed to lifting restrictions at 90 per cent, said: “yes we are” but “the only qualifier now is Omicron”.

“We need to know more about that and what it actually means for people who are unfortunate enough to catch that particular variant of COVID,” he told Fiveaa this morning.

“If it makes people sicker, or the speed with which it spreads through the community puts our health care system under stress, then we have to review that.

“But when we talk about the Delta variant, the commitment is to lift as many restrictions as possible to get back to as normal as possible as quickly as possible.

“So everyone’s watching closely to see just what Omicron really means, and I’m hopeful that all the positive things we’re hearing – which I believe are probably largely speculative at this time – come to fruition, and this is not something that we have to be concerned about.”

As of Saturday, 90.2 per cent of over-12s in SA have had at least one dose of a vaccine, while 81.9 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to federal government data.

The figures put the state on track to reach the double dose milestone around Christmas.

“We’ve seen a bit of a spike in people attending for their first dose vaccination which is excellent,” Stevens later told ABC Radio National.

“Our forecasting puts the 90 per cent of 12 years and above at about somewhere between the 22nd of December and the 3rd of January.

“But the way things are looking at the moment, I’d suggest it’s going to be earlier than later, so I’m hopeful it’s before Christmas and we can start taking steps to relax some of the South Australian based restrictions.

“But that’s dependent on what we find out about Omicron.”

Six new cases in SA, nearly 1000 in quarantine

SA Health recorded six new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, with the growing tally of exposure sites across the state causing a spike in the number of South Australians in quarantine.

As of Saturday, 967 people across the state are quarantining at home or in a medi-hotel – up from 210 people on Thursday – according to SA Health.

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There are now more than 78 exposure sites listed in Adelaide and 99 in total across the state, after SA Health listed another seven locations on Sunday including an eastern suburbs restaurant and two flights from the eastern states.

The state’s tally of cases since the borders reopened on November 23 now sits at 46, including 42 active cases.

SA Health reported 11,790 COVID-19 tests on Saturday, the state’s highest number since July.

One positive case is being treated in hospital.

Authorities wary of ‘frustration’ over border uncertainty

Stevens said the state’s COVID decision-makers were “tuned in” to “frustration” about the potential for SA’s borders to close on Saturday.

Asked on Fiveaa whether public sentiment was a part of the directions committee’s ultimate decision to keep borders open, Stevens said: “It always has been.”

“One thing we need to acknowledge is that the South Australian community have done everything that’s been asked of them by and large, and part of the success that we’ve had in managing COVID has been the goodwill of the broader community,” he said.

“So we are tuned in to what people think and feel.

“There was quite a significant sense of frustration playing out on social media in terms of the threat of borders closing.

“The decision we’ve made to keep them open will probably come back and bite us if we actually have a significant outbreak of Omicron,

“[If] it’s more severe, it puts more people in hospital, there’ll be the same sort of outcry from people saying ‘why didn’t you close the borders?’

“It’s a bit of a tightrope we have to walk but that’s the nature of the responsibilities we have.”

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