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SA looks to ease Vic border restrictions in 'coming weeks'

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UPDATED: Premier Steven Marshall says South Australia will maintain its hard border with Victoria for some weeks to come and is trying to repatriate residents from crisis-hit NSW, as he announced two new coronavirus cases linked to the Modbury cluster.

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Marshall told reporters this morning that today’s two new cases were both in quarantine and counted as part of the Modbury cluster, bringing the total number of cases linked to the outbreak to 21.

In a press conference this afternoon, chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said one of the cases is a woman aged in her 80s, who was staying at Tom’s Court medi-hotel with her husband, who tested positive last week after visiting the Tenafeate Creek Wines exposure site.

Today’s other positive case is a man age aged in his 40s, who is the father of siblings aged in their 20s, who also tested positive last week after visiting the Tenafeate winery.

There are currently two cases linked to the Modbury cluster who are in hospital – a man and woman aged in their 80s. Both are in a stable condition.

About 20,000 South Australians visited the approximate 80 exposure sites linked to the cluster, but only around 5000 of those are in directed quarantine.

SA Health yesterday added two new tier three exposure sites, both in the Aberfoyle Park shopping centre on Saturday, July 17.

But Spurrier this afternoon said those sites were added in error and they have since been removed from the exposure site list.

Health authorities also last night downgraded the status of six tier-one exposure sites after further investigation.

Spurrier said if a person visited a tier one site that had since been downgraded, their household “may be able to leave quarantine, but only if… you and the household can separate and you’ve tested negative”.

“This may not be possible for some people, but one of the reasons we wanted to do this was (because) we have got further information and… (if) you’ve got a household with children and they need to get back to school, it may be possible for you to separate,” she said.

“Your kids or partner may be able to go stay elsewhere for the last four or five days of your quarantine period.

“If you can’t, it’s fine, you can stay together for the rest of the quarantine period.

“It just gives an option for some people are some of those sites… for them to have a little bit more flexibility.”

Meanwhile, Victoria today reported six new local COVID-19 cases, but the source of a mystery case in a testing site traffic controller is still not known.

All travellers who have been in Victoria in the past 14 days are currently prohibited from entering South Australia, except those who live in border communities.

Marshall said Victoria’s chief health officer was providing information to South Australia to help it determine when it could reopen to travellers from the eastern state.

He said the state’s border arrangement with Victoria would remain “pretty messy… for some weeks to come”.

“What information we gather from Victoria will really help us frame our response to it,” he said.

“At the moment we still do have that hard border arrangement with Victoria, so that is very helpful in protecting South Australia.

“We will look to reduce that restriction with Victoria in the coming weeks.”

New South Wales today recorded its worst day for COVID-19 infections with authorities reporting another 239 cases – at least 88 of which were circulating in the community while infectious.

Marshall said health authorities were currently processing “thousands” of travel exemption applications from South Australians interstate and overseas who want to return to SA.

He said health authorities paused the granting of travel exemptions over the recent seven-day lockdown, meaning there is now a “bank-up” of applications.

“We moved through some of the most urgent ones yesterday and last night, but there is still a large number that we need to process,” he said.

“There will be more work done on that today and hopefully we’ve got something more to announce in the coming days.

“But, we’ve really got to manage this risk at the moment (and) my primary concern is the health of the people of South Australia and getting people back to work as quickly as possible.”

It comes as the Government announced nearly 5000 small to medium-sized South Australian businesses have received grants to compensate for the loss of income they incurred over the seven-day lockdown.

Businesses are eligible to receive $3000 if they have a payroll of less than $10 million, with an annual turnover of $75,000 or more in 2020-21 or 2019-20.

They must prove that their turnover will be reduced by at least 30 per cent over the seven-day lockdown from July 20.

Sole traders are also eligible to receive $1000 grants.

As at 10am this morning, the Government had spent $14.5 million from the total $100 million it committed last week for the grant program.

Marshall said the National Cabinet would meet tomorrow to discuss a commissioned report completed by the Doherty Institute, which is expected to outline how many Australians need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before lockdowns are no longer considered necessary.

“The Prime Minister has been very clear – we need to work through that modelling to look at the pathway out where we don’t have the lockdown situation in Australia,” he said.

“It’s going to be a long time off, but we’re looking at those thresholds that we need to get to, to the various stages, where we no longer have lockdowns in Australia.”

Marshall said Australia wanted to reach a position where there was “zero community transmission”.

“We can see the exponential nature of the delta variant and we know this can be very damaging in our health system,” he said.

“We have this zero community transmission goal here in South Australia and jurisdictions are taking whatever action they need to, to make sure that we can achieve that.

“What we need to be able to do is to have a pathway where we get the vaccination level up to a threshold that means that our health system can cope.”

The Premier rejected calls from the Opposition to open a mass vaccination hub at the Adelaide Convention Centre, saying it was “not something we’ve been advised to do”.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said mass vaccination clinics should be established in the city and the western and north-eastern suburbs. He also called for a State Government ad campaign specifically targeting over-70s.

But Marshall said South Australia already had “plenty of appointments” available at GPs or at vaccination hubs.

A total of 830,905 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in South Australia since the rollout began on February 22. Of those, 372,042 have been at SA Health-run clinics.

GPs and primary care centres have shouldered the bulk of South Australia’s with 418,257 doses administered, while a further 40,606 have been administered at Commonwealth aged and disability care facilities.

– with AAP

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