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'Champagne on ice' as SA looks to lift restrictions

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UPDATED: South Australian health authorities are “quietly confident” that they can start lifting restrictions from next week, despite linking two more people – including one new case reported today – to the Parafield cluster in Adelaide’s north.

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Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said this morning that she hadn’t “popped the cork on the champagne bottle yet, but the champagne is on ice” after telling reporters there was only one new coronavirus case reported in South Australia today, which she said was not linked to the Parafield cluster.

But in a media release sent this afternoon, SA Health clarified that today’s new case is in fact linked to the cluster, as is another case announced on Sunday.

Both patients, who are husband and wife, were previously believed to have acquired COVID-19 from overseas.

However, SA Health now states the cases are linked to a medi-hotel staff member who previously tested positive for COVID-19.

The revelations come as the state’s transition committee met this morning to discuss lifting a suite of restrictions from next Tuesday in the lead up to Christmas.

One new case

The new new coronavirus case announced today is a man in his 20s who is currently quarantining at Peppers medi-hotel in Waymouth Street.

Sunday’s case – a female in her 20s – is also quarantining with her husband at the hotel.

Both arrived in South Australia on November 11.

“There is no additional risk to the public as the cases are linked to a medi-hotel staff member who has previously tested positive for COVID-19 and contact tracing has already been undertaken,” SA Health said in its media release.

“As a precaution, we are undertaking additional testing at one of our medi-hotels for all staff and guests today.”

There are now 29 cases linked to the Parafield cluster, with one person – a woman in her 50s – currently in a stable condition in hospital.

The woman is part of the large family at the centre of the cluster and her condition has deteriorated due to a clinical condition.

Spurrier said almost all of the family had been infected with COVID-19 after one of the members who worked as a cleaner at Peppers medi-hotel in Waymouth Street transmitted the virus to her relatives at a family gathering.

A man in his 30s who was in hospital yesterday has since been discharged.

Many of the approximate 4100 people forced to quarantine due to the Parafield cluster are nearing the end of their 14-day isolation.

SA Health will boost its at-home testing capability to ensure that every person in quarantine is tested before they can leave.

There are currently 39 active coronavirus cases in SA.

Testing

More than 6800 South Australians were tested for COVID-19 yesterday – a slight decline on last week’s record daily figures.

Spurrier encouraged anyone who develops virus symptoms – no matter how mild – to get tested and remain at home until they receive their results.

“If you are at all concerned, particularly if you have even mild symptoms, even if you think it’s probably hay-fever but I’ll just get tested just to be on the safe side, do go and get tested,” she said.

Operation Protect

Police on Friday afternoon announced they had launched a 20-detective taskforce – dubbed “Operation Protect” – to examine whether any criminal activity was involved in the Woodville Pizza Bar case that triggered last week’s short-lived lockdown.

Police have already questioned the man at the centre of the scandal – a 36-year-old Spanish national on a temporary graduate visa who misled contact tracers by telling them that he bought a pizza from the Woodville Pizza Bar coronavirus hotspot.

Authorities later realised after further questioning that the man – a subcontracted worker at the Stamford medi-hotel – also worked at the pizza bar and became infected after coming in contact with another infected pizza bar employee.

Police say the man has cooperated with the investigation, but they still want to speak to two other “key people” involved with the pizza bar, both of whom have hired lawyers.

“I say it’s the strength of our system – people have a right not to speak to the police and it is confronting for people so we acknowledge there are boundaries,” the officer in charge of the taskforce, assistant commissioner Peter Harvey, told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning. 

“There’s no power of coercion here – it just does not exist.”

In a statement sent to the media this afternoon, the man’s solicitor – Scott Jelbert from Camena Legal and Migration – said he was “extremely remorseful and deeply sorry for any part his conduct played in any unnecessary lock-down actions”.

“He did not foresee or intend that things might unfold as they have,” Jelbert wrote.

“Since entering quarantine he has had limited information about government media releases, public opinion and social media. I am however instructed that some information is not fair, accurate or complete notwithstanding the State Government’s comments, and he is concerned he has been all but publicly named.”

Up to 36 police officers have already reviewed almost 500 hours of CCTV footage from the Peppers medi-hotel and seized electronic devices such as mobile phones, a laptop and hard-drive from the Spanish national.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said police had investigated whether the Spanish national entered the Peppers medi-hotel using a different name.

“My understanding of the analysis was to be satisfied that a person wasn’t participating in another form of employment in that hotel, potentially under a different name,” he said.

“It was simply just a covering all bases approach to make sure that we didn’t have any other concerns that needed to be investigated.”

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Harvey told FIVEaa Radio that the investigation would wrap up this week or early next week.

He said the investigation was currently confined to SA Police resources, but “if we have lines of inquiry or queries we will and do reach out to the AFP (Australian Federal Police) or Department of Home Affairs, Taxation and others”. 

Police are yet to reveal whether they have found a motive for the man’s alleged lie or if any crimes were committed.

Harvey said it was “standard process” to dedicate 20 detectives to a taskforce, claiming there was “nothing exceptional to see here”. 

“One of the success processes for a good investigation is to get as many people to start with, get the right analysts and data analysts and intelligence people and detectives and the work together quickly … and then we can pull back and … reallocate resources,” he said. 

Authorities have revealed the age, nationality and occupation of the man who allegedly lied to authorities, however, they have refused to provide a similar level of detail about other positive coronavirus cases, with Spurrier  saying doing so would breach privacy standards.

Asked whether the public could trust SA Health to keep information they provide to contact tracing officers confidential, in light of the Woodville Pizza worker’s case sparking a police investigation, Spurrier said her team had “very, very high standards in terms of privacy”.

“They are collecting information to simply keep our community safe and… nine-and-a-half times out of 10 people are very cooperative and they are providing us with the information that they can,” she said.

The CCTV footage will also be used by SA Health to determine how an overseas traveller quarantining at the hotel transmitted the virus to the cleaner, sparking the Parafield cluster.

“We’ve got the equipment, we’ve got the expertise in terms of reviewing the CCTV and then providing the necessary material to health, and they’re reviewing that through the CDCB (Clinical Disease Control Branch),” Stevens said.

Restrictions set to ease next week

Premier Steven Marshall said after this morning’s transition committee meeting that authorities had their eyes “firmly fixed on next Tuesday as the day that we will go back to where we were before the Parafield cluster”.

Restrictions set to be eased on December 1 include bans on stand-up drinking, caps on private and public gatherings and venue capacity limits.

South Australia is also hoping to lift its border restrictions with Victoria on December 1.

“We are having another meeting on Friday to make sure that we can be ready for Tuesday,” Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said.

“We don’t want to take our foot off the brake too quickly.

“People are doing a good job, we’re just asking for their help to make sure we get over this current hump and move back to where we want to be.”

The Government today announced it would extend the deadline for small business cash grant applications from December 14 to midnight February 28.

The grants are available to small businesses and not-for-profits that were hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Stevens said the Government was “on track” to roll-out QR scanning technology across the hospitality sector by next Tuesday.

The introduction of the technology is a precursor to the Government allowing stand-up consumption of alcohol at licensed venues.

Border restrictions rundown

ACT

The ACT Government has advised travellers and returning residents from South Australia to reconsider all non-essential travel into the territory.

Travellers are not allowed into the territory if, in the 14 days prior, they visited a place in South Australia that is subject to a COVID-19 health alert requiring them to quarantine, or if they had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

NSW

The New South Wales border is open to South Australians, except those who visited a place that is subject to a SA Health COVID-19 alert requiring them to quarantine.

New South Wales residents who visited a place on alert at the specified time can return home, provided they get tested and self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.

NT

Travellers and returning residents from South Australia must complete 14 days of mandatory quarantine at their own expense, which is $2500 a person.

QLD

The Queensland border is shut to travellers who live in 20 South Australian metropolitan local government areas.

Only Queensland residents, those moving to Queensland, those obtaining essential health care or those with shared parenting arrangements are exempt.

Anyone who has not been in the 20 council areas 14 days prior to arriving will be granted entry.

TAS

Travellers and returning residents from South Australia must complete 14 days of mandatory quarantine, either in government-designated accommodation or at another suitable premises.

VIC

South Australians require a permit to enter Victoria based on the locations they have visited or travelled through 14 days prior. These locations are categorised as green, orange and red zones.

Travellers who visited green zone places – all areas outside of metropolitan Adelaide – are eligible to receive a permit.

Travellers who visited orange zone places – all areas of metropolitan Adelaide, not including areas designated as a red zone – are eligible to receive a permit and are strongly advised to get tested upon arrival.

Travellers who visited red zone places – all areas subject to a SA Health COVID-19 alert requiring immediate self-isolation and testing – are not eligible to receive a permit.

WA

Travellers and returning residents from South Australia are not allowed in Western Australia, with some exemptions.

Travel into and within SA

Travel within South Australia is mostly unrestricted, although people are encouraged to avoid unnecessary travel.

South Australia’s border is currently open to all states and territories except Victoria.

People who arrive in South Australia from the ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, TAS and WA are not required to be tested for COVID-19 or self-quarantine for 14 days, however, they must fill out a cross border travel registration.

The only travellers from Victoria who can enter South Australia include students returning to SA, people permanently relocating to SA, people relocating to SA for work, and people passing through SA en route to WA or the NT.

People living within 70-kilometres of the South Australian and Victorian border can travel up to 70-kilometres into SA or VIC, for any reason.

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