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‘Be flexible’: No change to SA borders but variant prompts warning for travellers

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Police commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens has warned South Australians to be flexible with travel plans amid concern about the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, but the transition committee has opted against making any changes to the state’s open borders.

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Stevens told reporters this morning that the transition committee received a briefing from SA Health about the highly transmissible Omicron variant, but there was no discussion about closing South Australia’s newly opened borders to Victoria, New South Wales or the ACT.

“My takeaway at the moment is clearly we’re dealing with a new variant which has been designated a variant of concern,” he told reporters after the meeting.

“But there’s a lot more information that is required before we can really assess the impact it’s going to have in terms of how we manage the pandemic going forward.”

Asked whether the transition committee discussed shutting South Australia’s borders again, Stevens said: “No.”

“I’m hopeful that we can hold our position as we currently have in South Australia so people can continue to travel, but as we’ve said right throughout the course of the pandemic, if you are travelling, be flexible with your travel plans so that you’re not caught on the hop,” he said.

“Transition committee is simply one of the meetings that we regularly have, we’ve had previous meetings this week where we’ve reviewed our border arrangements and we’ve made the determination at this point in time to hold them where they are.”

The meeting comes amid calls to temporarily shut South Australia’s borders until more is known about the new Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa and preliminary evidence suggests is more transmissible than any other COVID-19 strain.

Premier Steven Marshall also said on Monday he was “hopeful” South Australia’s borders would remain open over the Christmas period despite the uncertainty posed by the new variant.

NSW today recorded 179 cases of COVID-19 and three deaths, with the state managing four active cases of the Omicron variant in quarantine.

Victoria today recorded another 918 new cases and six deaths, bringing its total number of active cases to 11,417.

South Australia has recorded ten cases of COVID-19 since reopening its borders to the eastern states on November 23.

Stevens said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the volume of people coming into South Australia since the borders reopened.

He said more than 100,000 people have accessed the state’s border application program, EntryCheck SA, and the site is “standing up to that sort of pressure”.

“We’ve been able to keep on top of that and I think around 80 per cent of people travelling across the borders are being spoken to by our border patrols, which is an excellent number,” he said.

“It gives us some confidence that we are managing the sort of shift in the virus at this point in time, and it means we can maintain the current situation we have.

“I would have probably expected more positive cases to be identified … but I think that’s also something that [chief public health officer Nicola] Spurrier was very happy with because she wants a very controlled introduction of COVID-19 in South Australia.”

National Cabinet is due to meet this afternoon after the federal government moved on Monday to delay the scheduled arrival of international students and skilled migrants for two weeks until December 15.

South Australian authorities over the weekend moved to extend mandatory quarantine periods for international travellers from seven days to 14 days – the first adjustment to the state’s COIVD-19 roadmap since the detection of the Omicron variant.

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