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Police stop school bus after COVID border breach fear

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UPDATED | Two teenage girls have been arrested and charged after they allegedly hitchhiked across the South Australian border from Victoria and later entered a school bus full of high school students in Victor Harbor.

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SA Police say they were informed by Victoria Police just before 7:15am today that two girls had hitchhiked across the South Australian border using “several different vehicles to travel in to see another girl in Goolwa”.

The girls, aged 15 and 16, then travelled from Goolwa on a school bus to Victor Harbor High School this morning, according to police.

Officers stopped the bus and prevented students getting off, with those on board reportedly handed masks and stranded aboard for around two hours.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens told reporters this afternoon that the two girls had been arrested and charged with failing to comply with quarantine directions and providing false information to officers at the border.

He said they had both returned negative COVID-19 tests.

“We are operating at a heightened sense of concern (and) we’ve put steps in place to prohibit travel into South Australia,” he said.

“This type of activity has the potential to undermine all of the efforts we’re putting in place to protect South Australia from the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s good that these two girls have been found, it’s very good that they’ve provided negative tests, but the sorts of activities here we’ve witnessed do put us at risk.”

Victor Harbor High School Principal Adie Conley initially said all students on the bus had been taken home, but later updated her statement to say all children “are in the process of being taken home”.

“This morning SAPOL stopped a school bus with some of our students on it in relation to a possible breach of COVID-19 restrictions,” Conley said on Facebook.

“All families of children on the bus have been contacted and their children are in the process of being taken home until further health advice is provided.”

The State Education Department said most children are now off the bus and have been told to isolate at home until further advice is given.

Police have now put a call out to “any person [who] believes they may have given a lift to these two girls” to isolate immediately and contact SA Health’s COVID hotline.

One student on the bus, Hamish who called into FiveAA, said police handed out masks on the bus, which was full of students and stopped for around two hours.

“We were just told to stay seated,” he said.

“There’s not much communication at the moment, so no one’s actually sure what’s happening or where we’re going.”

Hamish later said he was allowed off the bus and his Mum was driving him home.

“Basically, just these girls got on and when we got to the school we were stopped,” he said.

He said police initially told him he would have to quarantine for 14 days but “towards when we were leaving, an officer came up to the window and said it would be quarantine at your home until notified by SA Health”.

He estimated around 40 to 50 students were on the bus.

The COVID scare comes after South Australia shut its border to Greater Melbourne on Wednesday, with Victoria today entering day one of a seven-day “circuit breaker” lockdown in a bid to contain an outbreak which has now grown to 30 cases.

Last night, 32 passengers aboard The Ghan train to Darwin were removed at Marla, 970km northwest of Adelaide, and bussed back Adelaide to be put into quarantine.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said a number of the train passengers had been at high-risk exposure sites in Victoria and SA Health were organising testing for them.

Another two travellers on a westward-bound Indian Pacific train have been offloaded in Adelaide and put into hotel quarantine.

Pressure on testing sites across South Australia eased this morning, with SA Health reporting no wait times for Adelaide’s popular Victoria Park testing facility as of 9am today.

Health officials also reported wait times at Port Adelaide’s drive through testing facility to be between 30 minutes and an hour this morning, and between one to two hours at the Daw Park Repat Health Precinct.

It follows a surge in people presenting for testing over the last two days after hundreds of travellers arrived in SA from exposure sites in Victoria.

SA Health reported 7042 COVID tests on Wednesday – its second-highest number this year – with reported testing wait times of up to three hours at Victoria Park, Daw Park and Hampstead Road in Northfield.

South Australia recorded no new COVID-19 cases on Thursday despite hundreds of returned travellers from Victoria currently isolating.

Victoria this morning recorded four new local cases of COVID-19, with a record 47,462 Victorians tested for COVID in the 24 hours to Friday morning.

The outbreak – which began when a traveller returned to Melbourne after contracting COVID while in quarantine at Adelaide’s Playford medi-hotel on North Terrace – has now put more than 15,000 Victorians into isolation as primary and secondary close contacts of known cases.

There are more than 150 exposures sites across regional and urban Victoria, including 121 publicly listed locations.

 Stephanie Richards

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