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Border debate: SA's response a "best guess"

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South Australia has taken a “best guess” approach to responding to the coronavirus pandemic and some decisions will be retrospectively branded unfair, the SA Police Commissioner has conceded, amid ongoing debate about a plan to allow international students to travel into the state while Victorians are locked-out.

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Emergency coordinator and SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens told FIVEaa Radio this morning that authorities would reflect on the state’s COVID-19 response and likely deem some rulings were “not right”.

It comes as Victorians living in cross-border communities will from Friday be unable to travel into South Australia for work, business or schooling as the eastern state continues to grapple with a deadly second COVID-19 wave.

But up to 300 international students from Singapore will be allowed to travel into South Australia from next month, under a federal pilot to revive a $1.9 billion industry  shattered by coronavirus-prompted travel restrictions.

The apparent contradiction has fuelled public criticism and raised questions about the state’s preparedness to start responding to the economic repercussions of COVID-19 before the health crisis in Australia has waned.

“There will be reflections on this and there will be things that were found that were not right, things that were done that were best guess, but we are working in such a complex field trying to get it right and protect South Australians and the wider Australian community,” Stevens said.

“This is not something that we’ve ever had to contemplate before, putting in restrictions that inhibit movement between one state and another in Australia.

“I’ve never dealt with this, this is not a policing function that we’ve ever had to contemplate before and we are dealing with a changing environment on a daily basis.”

Currently, people living in border communities are allowed to travel within a 50-kilometre radius into SA.

From Friday, they will only be allowed to cross into SA if they have a letter deeming them “essential travellers”.

Premier Steven Marshall was on the defensive this morning, telling ABC Radio Adelaide that it was “not helpful” to compare the South Australia’s decision to allow foreign students to travel to the state with the tougher border restrictions with Victoria.

“I can appreciate the frustration on that issue but they’re completely separate issues,” he said.

“One is bringing in international arrival students that have been studying here for years –  they’ve already paid their money (and) they’ve lived in Adelaide… and they want to complete their studies so they’re coming to a quarantine hotel.

“They would meet their own flight cost, their own quarantine cost and when they’re in Adelaide they’re going to be contributing to our economy and they’re completing their degree which they’ve already started here.

“It’s a very different situation from Victoria where we’ve seen a very significant second wave – more than 7000 active cases in that community at the moment.”

Marshall told reporters this afternoon keeping “punishing” border restrictions in place with Victoria was necessary to maintain South Australia’s “quality of life”.

He said allowing a “small number” of international students to travel into SA would not pose a threat to public health and would help bolster the pandemic-wounded economy.

But he admitted the Government was still unsure about which countries the students would come from – despite announcing over the weekend that they would arrive in the state as early as next month.

“The plan is being worked through at the moment,” he said.

“They’re quite young and they will be sourced from places where we can manage that risk and all that risk is assessed by SA Health.

“This is not a whim, this is something which will have a significant economic impact in South Australia and of course that means jobs.”

Education Minister John Gardner said South Australians would experience a “lower quality of life” if the 300 international students did not come to the state.

“It’s not an optional extra for South Australia – without those international students you would see significant increases in unemployment, significant decreases in our state of wellbeing in South Australia, significant decreases in our economy and a lower quality of life for South Australians here in South Australia,” he said.

Health Minister Stephen Wade last night had a tense exchange with Sky News Australia’s Chris Kenny about South Australia’s decision to allow foreign students to travel into the state.

During the interview, Wade was asked which countries the students would travel from and how many active COVID-19 cases were present in each country.

“Their port of dispatch is Singapore,” Wade responded.

“We are doing mandatory supervised isolation for every single student that comes into South Australia (and) that’s not possible for the thousands of people who are coming across the border from Victoria.”

According to the Singaporean Government website, there are currently 3378 active cases on the sovereign island, compared to Victoria’s 7274 active cases.

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