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Marshall lobbying health authorities on easing restrictions

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EXCLUSIVE | Premier Steven Marshall is pushing to accelerate the timetable for easing coronavirus restrictions in South Australia, but has told a meeting of local government leaders his Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier currently favours the existing plan.

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It comes as state authorities consider strengthening control of the state’s Victorian border, as stakeholders heard that around 600 people a day are still streaming into SA, with many more likely to be evading detection.

The Premier addressed a Zoom meeting last night comprising more than 100 mayors and CEOs as well as departmental officers, with sources telling InDaily he vowed to “do everything I possibly can” to bring forward ‘Step Two’ of the three-phase plan for reopening the economy.

Step Two, which allows for seated dining in restaurants and cafes, is currently scheduled to kick in on Monday June 8 – the Queen’s Birthday public holiday – but several regional councils are pushing for the date to be brought forward three days to capitalise on the long weekend.

It’s understood Marshall told the meeting he was advocating for the change to June 5, but that he would need to convince Spurrier, who favoured the later date on public health grounds.

A spokeswoman for the Premier said Marshall advised the meeting “he will raise this option with SA Health”.

“It’s been suggested to him by many people,” she said in a statement.

“We’ve been clear we will continue to follow health advice.”

The tenets of the Three-Step plan were established by the national cabinet last week, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave states and territories leeway to make their own variations – with New South Wales allowing pubs and clubs to open inside dining with alcohol served at tables from tomorrow.

SA’s current Step One regime allows for only outdoor seated dining, with no alcohol to be served.

Several council figures contacted by InDaily have confirmed the matter was raised in the meeting, with Karoonda East Murray mayor Caroline Phillips saying regional “tourism and hospitality businesses would benefit from the long weekend”.

“Obviously we need to go with advice from the health department, but we’ll monitor that situation as we move forward and in the hope we’re still travelling well, [we asked] whether consideration could be given [to the earlier date],” she said.

“[Marshall] indicated certainly he’d look at that.

“Of course it’s about, number one, complying with the health advice [but] he was supportive of that and encouraging that.”

Grant mayor Richard Sage said the push was “all about trying to get the communities back to business”, while Wattle Range mayor Des Noll said Marshall was “looking at the long weekend and perhaps bringing [the Step Two date] forward to the Friday – but he’s still in consultation about that”.

Mount Gambier mayor Lynette Martin said the move “would make sense given it’s just a couple of days, and the Government are promoting travel to the regions”.

“He was certainly acknowledging the message from the regions that they’d really like to see [restrictions eased on] the 5th rather than the 8th,” she said.

“It would make good sense.”

Several mayors from the Limestone Coast region flagged concerns about the number of people still entering SA via the Victorian border, with the Premier understood to have conceded police resources are unable to keep a firm rein on arrivals.

It’s understood the meeting was told consideration would be given to closing off several smaller roads allowing access to SA from Victoria, bypassing the police checkpoint.

“We’ve got a stretch of the Victorian border that’s got a lot of side roads that come into SA, so not everybody needs to follow the main roads,” said Sage.

“I think [Marshall] was really highlighting the fact the limited resources police have got are not sufficient to cover the Victorian border [but] there’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes.”

Nonetheless, he said, “if people want to flout the law, they will”.

Martin said it was “important that we do keep that border control very tight”.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens this week tightened the list of ‘essential travel’ exemptions to the rule requiring two-week quarantine on entry to SA, a point Marshall highlighted to the meeting.

In a statement, SAPOL said it had “a number of border control stations established across the state to monitor and manage the flow of all travellers entering the state”, which had been “strategically established to capture the maximum flow of vehicle movements on the main transport corridors entering the state”.

“Consideration for each site has been based on the need to provide police with safe locations such as shelter, communications, road width and facilities such as toilets, which therefore prevents establishing these sites all being set up strictly on the borders,” a spokesperson said.

“Additionally police are also conducting mobile patrols in border areas to ensure that people crossing the border do so in compliance with the current Direction.”

Today’s revelations come after a week in which the Government’s rhetoric has been frequently at odds with health authorities.

Yesterday, Marshall insisted the Government was working through a deal that could help kickstart the AFL season, telling reporters “there’s a potential for us to have a modified quarantine” arrangement for the SA-based teams – however that option was emphatically shot down by health authorities overnight.

Spurrier also today shot down Transport Minister Stephan Knoll’s suggestion that “public health advice has not been for the Department to do anything different from what it is doing” on public transport overcrowding.

Rather, she told radio, the Government should look at “the frequency of services and the number of carriages and so forth to ensure that there can be social distancing”, adding: “I think it would be much safer to avoid getting on any transport where you can’t do the social distancing.”

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