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SA boosts Vic border police, considers ADF and drones

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COVID-19 will “spread like wildfire” in South Australia unless the state remains vigilant, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens says, with SA currently in talks with the Australian Defence Force to bolster its control over the Victorian border.

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Police Commissioner Grant Stevens told reporters this morning South Australia did not yet have a “final picture” of what border controls with Victoria would look like, but additional resources and police officers would be deployed to stop non-essential travel from the eastern state.

It followed yesterday’s announcement that non-South Australian residents would be barred from crossing into the state from Victoria from midnight tonight, with Health Minister Steven Wade saying that state’s outbreak posed a “clear threat to public health in SA”.  

Victoria yesterday recorded 191 new cases of coronavirus – its largest single-day increase so far – prompting Melbourne’s return to Stage 3 lockdown from midnight Wednesday, for six weeks.

Speaking on Wednesday morning shortly before Victoria confirmed another 134 cases, Stevens said that COVID-19 “will find its way into South Australia and if we are not right on top of it then it will spread like wildfire”.  

SA currently has about 260 police officers working on rotation to monitor border crossings, but Stevens said that number would likely increase today and tomorrow as police seek to replace mobile patrols with a permanent police presence at some of the 65 crossing points into Victoria.

“Some of them are very small roads and one of the considerations is that we’ll physically block those with signage rather than deploying resources to those particular small roads,” he said.

“We’ll be making sure we have resources where we can address the largest volume of traffic, but we don’t want people thinking they can sneak through by using small dirt tracks.”

To help boost its border presence, Stevens said police were currently in talks with the Australian Defence Force as “one option” to assist police with staffing check points, with drones also in consideration.  

“We’re in discussions now and we have not a firm position in relation to using the Defence Force and we’ll see what those discussions produce,” he said.

Stevens said locals in Victorian towns near the South Australian border could apply for exemptions to cross between the states to undertake their normal daily activities such as schooling, farming or work within a 50-kilometre radius inside the border.  

If they travel beyond the 50-kilometre radius they risk a $1000 fine.  

“That will enable them to undertake those services or functions that they require as part of their normal daily lives, but will prevent them from travelling too far into South Australia and provide us with greater security in relation to their movement,” he said.

“At this time we’re also allowing people living in cross-border communities to use their existing approval, which they have under the old direction.” 

Stevens said as of yesterday, South Australia had received 24,000 applications for essential travel into the state, which had created a processing backlog.

“We always anticipated a backlog when we introduced the pre-approval process and we are working through that 16 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

“We will get there, but we are asking people to be patient with that as well. 

“Anyone who needs to travel can attend one of the checkpoints and the police officers on the checkpoints will help them follow that process and get their approval if it’s applicable.”

SA Pathology clinical services director Dr Tom Dodd told reporters this morning the Government was considering whether it should implement mandatory COVID-19 testing for all arrivals from Victoria into South Australia.

“The planning is rather dynamic at the moment and testing is one of the things that will be considered.”

But he said the mandatory 14 days of self-isolation required for any South Australian who returns from Victoria still provided the best protection.

“It has never been more important for people with symptoms of COVID-19… to get a test right now.”

Health Minister Stephen Wade said any decision to enforce mandatory testing would be based on the advice of public health clinicians.

SA plans to open its borders to New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory from July 20, but Stevens warned after a meeting of the state’s Transition Committee yesterday that the situation would be monitored to ensure there was no spike in those jurisdictions as a result of people travelling from Victoria.

SA recorded no new COVID-19 cases yesterday, though chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier told reporters: “Nationwide, we’re really, really in a difficult situation at the moment… the numbers in Victoria are absolutely worrying.”

Only SA residents and those approved as essential travellers are exempt from the Victorian border restriction.

Essential travellers, including those seeking medical treatment interstate, must wear personal protective equipment and record their movement.

South Australians returning from Victoria will be required to quarantine for a fortnight.

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