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SA reinstates Vic border "buffer", changes gathering and travel restrictions

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South Australia will reinstate a 40-kilometre “buffer zone” for Victorians living near the border, home gathering caps will be lifted to 50 people and travellers will be allowed to transit into SA from Canberra and Sydney Airports under new changes to restrictions agreed upon by the state’s transition committee this morning.

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The “good news” announced by Premier Steven Marshall this morning comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Victoria this week plummeted to a seven-week low and New South Wales today recorded just three new cases.

Marshall said the falling case numbers had prompted authorities to lift a “hugely disruptive” restriction on communities straddling the South Australian and Victorian border that banned locals from travelling into SA unless they were attending or dropping students at year 11 or 12 classes, or working in primary industries.

The restriction was imposed on Friday night and has been widely criticised by impacted locals, who say they have been forced out of work and school.

From midnight Thursday, cross-border communities will once again be allowed to travel 40 kilometres either side of the border as part of a “buffer zone” exemption – provided western Victoria does not record any new COVID-19 cases from community transmission between now and Friday.

“When we first announced that there was going to be this border arrangement put in place, what we had seen then was a massive escalation in the active cases in Victoria and the seeding of those active cases and community transmission within regional Victoria,” Marshall said.

“Since that time, the Government there has put stage four lockdowns in place, they have been able to significantly reduce the number of new infections in Victoria… but most importantly, we’re not seeing a continuing escalation.

“That’s given the transition committee the confidence to put that buffer arrangement back in place, provided there are no additional cases of community transmission reported between now and midnight on Thursday night.”

South Australia’s chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said she had been provided with “detailed information” about a coronavirus cluster in the cross-border council of Glenelg Shire, which abuts the South Australian border, and she was confident that the cluster would not spread into the state.

“The reason we’re saying Thursday is it will be 14 days, which is a full incubation period since the last case was diagnosed in the Glenelg Shire,” she said.

“The other more northern local government areas are not of such a concern.

“I think we really need to have a look at the impact on the people who live in those areas and I think it has been extremely disruptive and I don’t think anyone could say that’s not been the case.

“Now that I have further information from Victoria and it’s very detailed I think we can confidently move back from that situation.”

Spurrier denied that the Government had imposed the hard border restrictions with Victoria prematurely, saying authorities wanted to make sure communities had adequate time to prepare.

She said the Government was trying to base its decisions on “science and evidence” and now was the time to revert back to the 40-kilometre buffer zone.

It comes as almost 30 groups signed a joint letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders this morning warning the piecemeal border closures were impacting families, destroying jobs and crippling the economic recovery.

State and federal MPs representing electorates on either side of the border also last week penned a letter to SA Police Commissioner and state emergency co-ordinator Grant Stevens urging a more collaborative approach to border closures.

Other restrictions changes announced today include a lifting of the home gathering cap from 10 to 50 people, which will come into force from Friday.

People travelling into South Australia from Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Queensland will also be allowed to make a transit stop at Canberra or Sydney Airports without having to self-isolate for 14 days.

Marshall said the State Government was “continuing to look very closely” at lifting its border restriction with New South Wales and the ACT and it was “quite possible” that an announcement would be made within the next two weeks.

Currently, people travelling from NSW or the ACT into South Australia must self-isolate for 14 days.

Earlier today, Health Minister Stephen Wade announced a state taxpayer-funded paid pandemic leave scheme of up to $1500 for eligible workers who are forced to quarantine, or care for someone required to quarantine, for up to 14 days.

Under the scheme, a separate upfront ‘testing’ payment of $300 will be available for eligible workers in an identified COVID-19 cluster, who are required to self-isolate while awaiting a coronavirus test result or as a result of a public health directive.

The $300 payment will also be available for someone who is caring for a person who meets the above-mentioned eligibility criteria.

The scheme will be backdated to yesterday and will provide financial incentive for casual, full-time or part-time workers over the age of 17 who can demonstrate the would have otherwise been at work and had no or insufficient paid leave entitlements, to follow health advice.

It is not available to people who are required to quarantine for 14 days or more due to returning from overseas or interstate.

“Lack of leave entitlements for workers, particularly casual workers, is considered a significant risk factor in not complying with isolation requirements,” Wade said.

“It’s expected this scheme will further protect those in our community most vulnerable to COVID-19, particularly those in residential aged care or supported disability accommodation, who are often supported by a highly-casualised workforce.”

The State Government attempted to receive federal support to fund the scheme, but that request was turned down because South Australia has not declared a state of disaster like Victoria.

SA Unions welcomed the State Government’s investment, saying it would ensure casual workers would not lose wages or their job if they needed to isolate or get tested.

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