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SA restrictions remain as PM reveals new COVID exit plan

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COVID restrictions in South Australia will remain unchanged until at least next week, as authorities revealed a fifth family member of a miner who recently returned from the Northern Territory is now carrying the virus.

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It comes as national cabinet today agreed to a “pathway” that Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists will ultimately “see us manage COVID-19 as an infectious disease like any other in our community”.

That will involve moving – at an unspecified point – to a ‘consolidation phase’, with the PM invoking comparisons to the flu, saying: “When it is like the flu, we should treat it like the flu – and that means no lockdowns.”

South Australia recorded two new cases today, one from a returning traveller in hotel quarantine – and the other the infant child of the Tanami miner, whose wife and other three children had already tested positive to the disease.

All six family members have been transferred to Adelaide’s dedicated city COVID facility at Tom’s Court after self-quarantining since their return to SA.

“Our thoughts are with the family at the moment,” Premier Steven Marshall told reporters.

“The actions they have taken are exactly and precisely what have kept our state safe.”

Marshall today indicated the state’s current level of COVID restrictions would remain unchanged, citing the level of community transmission around the country – which includes 31 new cases in NSW today, 15 of which were active in the community.

“There will be no reduction and no increase in restrictions – and that’s likely to continue at least through the weekend,” Marshall said.

Those measures include a reduced density requirement for most venues, mandatory mask-wearing in high-risk settings and a limit of 10 people at family gatherings.

Hard border restrictions also remain in place with Western Australia, NSW, Queensland and the ACT.

Marshall said the measures would be revisited next week.

“It is still a dangerous situation for the country – what I can say though is there won’t be a further increase in restrictions here in SA, but also there won’t be a reduction immediately,” Marshall said.

He continued to urge “every single South Australian who is eligible to get that vaccination”.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said she was “feeling very comfortable this morning” about the situation in SA, with close and casual contacts of the miner, who flew back into Adelaide last week, have been tested and all returned negative tests, including a group of his fellow workers.

However, Marshall indicated concern over the burgeoning case numbers at the Tom’s Court facility, saying he had “written to the Prime Minister asking for a reduction in the number of returning Australians to SA”.

“This was triggered because we have 15 people in Tom’s Court hotel, so I wrote to the PM asking we reduce our cap by 76 passengers per week.”

That was agreed – however it was subsequently superseded by a decision of the national cabinet this morning to slash the national cap on returning commercial passengers by half.

That was part of a “new deal” agreed by national, state and territory leaders this morning, with Morrison mapping out a four-stage “pathway” – in which lockdowns would be instituted as a “last resort”.

Marshall said there was “still a lot of detail to work through, but I think the people of Australia will be very satisfied that we are working to create a pathway through this COVID situation”.

In a later media conference, Morrison said this morning’s meeting had agreed to a four-phase pathway out of COVID, with Australia currently in the first phase::  “Vaccinate, prepare and pilot.”

“We continue to suppress the virus… that involves the implementation of the national vaccination plan to offer every Australian an opportunity to be vaccinated with the necessary doses of the relevant vaccine as soon as possible,” he said.

He said the next stage would involve “minimising serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of COVID-19”, while the third “consolidation” phase would aim to “treat coronavirus like any other infectious disease such as the flu”.

“We will manage COVID consistent with other infectious diseases… that basically means that the hospitalisation and mortality rates you see from COVID would be like the flu, or arguably better,” he said.

“When it is like the flu, we should treat it like the flu – and that means no lockdowns.”

The fourth and final stage would be “life as normal”, with outbound travel for vaccinated people, international arrivals allowed in and wider travel bubbles with other countries.

Morrison announced an immediate 50 per cent reduction of inbound commercial arrivals to ease the pressure on quarantine facilities amid the outbreak of the Delta strain.

“While the reduction of those caps will certainly…take some pressure off, as we have observed over the course of these past 18 months, that alone does not provide any fail-safe regarding any potential breaches,” he said.

“We have seen breaches occur, predominantly as a result of infection control procedures and human error and so on, those issues need to continue to be strengthened.”

Significantly, Morrison said national cabinet had agreed that in the current phase lockdowns would be “only used as a last resort” – despite half the country currently under stay at home orders.

He indicated a vaccination threshold – to be determined – would have to be reached, “expressed as a percentage of the eligible population”, for each phase to be triggered. 

Marshall was today asked about whether a targeted 80 per cent vaccination rate would trigger a complete retreat from COVID restrictions.

“I think that’s a really good question and that’s what most South Australians are wanting to find out – what is the pathway out,” he said.

“We have several states with lockdowns in place, so we’re looking at what we’re doing here – we’ve got to continue to get the population vaccinated.”

He indicated that would involve greater “incentives to get that vaccination”.

“It’s a situation where we would like to see a minimum of 80 per cent of people who are eligible getting that vaccination [but] I don’t want people to think 80 per cent is the ultimate,” he said.

“100 per cent of eligible South Australians is the ultimate… we would like to see every single person who is eligible getting that vaccination.”

However, Spurrier was more equivocal about what the vaccination threshold would mean.

“It’s not possible always to put a number on things,” she said, noting that as vaccinations have been rolled out more widely worldwide, “we now know it can stop you getting infected and transmitting it but that’s not 100 per cent for either of those values”.

She said the vaccine “might not be as effective” against some “variants of concern”.

“At the end of the day this is a moving feast… public health is not black and white, there’s a lot of grey,” she said.

“The more we can vaccinate people, the sooner we can get on top of this pandemic.”

-additional reporting by AAP

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