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'Holding pattern': SA borders staying open for now

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South Australia’s transition committee is “cautiously optimistic” that it can keep state borders open but says SA Health is waiting for more detailed information on the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

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Speaking after this morning’s transition committee meeting, Police Commissioner and state emergency co-ordinator Grant Stevens said authorities are “in a holding pattern” on COVID-19 restrictions until SA Health can make a “proper assessment” about the new variant.

Stevens reiterated that he “can’t make any promises” about the potential impact of Omicron on border restrictions, but said “we are pushing to maintain consistency”.

“I think it’s fair to say that we are cautiously optimistic that the current settings we have in place are sufficient, but we do need to just ensure people are aware of the fact that this is a new variant,” he told reporters this morning.

“We don’t know really what it means. We are watching closely but we are trying to maintain some consistency in our approach as well.”

New South Wales today reported another six Omicron cases, bringing the state’s tally to 31, while the ACT detected three new cases.

SA authorities on Saturday opted to keep the state’s borders open to the eastern states despite a recommendation from SA Health that they shut until more is known about Omicron.

Asked whether there was a number of Omicron cases interstate that would prompt SA to close its borders, Stevens said: “My assessment is there’s not a specific number.”

“It’s more about the nature of how the virus spreads, where it is within the community and whether the cases can be linked to existing cases,” he said.

“It’s not a black and white number where we go over a tipping point – we are closely monitoring a whole range of factors.”

Asked when SA Health will be able to provide more detailed information about the nature of Omicron, Stevens said chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier “has indicated that we might have something specific by the end of this week.”

“That’s not a full picture of Omicron, but we are getting more and more information every day,” he said.

It comes as South Australia closes in on the 90 per cent double dose vaccination milestone for over 12s – outlined in the state’s reopening roadmap as when “restrictions on most activities” will ease and quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers will be removed.

As of Sunday, 90.3 per cent of the state’s population over-12 has had at least one jab, while 82.1 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to SA Health.

It puts the state on track to reach the 90 per cent double jabbed milestone between the 22nd of December and the 3rd of January, according to official projections.

Stevens said the transition committee was “still discussing” relaxing restrictions at 90 per cent despite the arrival of Omicron.

“There’s high levels of expectation within the community that things will change when we hit 90 per cent – I’m hopeful for that too,” he said.

“We just need to make sure we have a proper understanding of what the new variant means.”

SA Health on Monday recorded four new cases of COVID-19, with one patient currently in hospital.

The state’s tally of cases since the borders reopened on November 23 stands at 49, with 45 currently active.

Meanwhile, all visitors to SA public hospitals and health care services now have to show proof of double vaccination, under new rules issued by SA Health.

The new guidelines issued late on Monday also mandate that only one visitor is allowed to see a patient for up to two hours at a time.

Unvaccinated visitors also now need to wear protective clothing and undergo a COVID test within 48 hours after their visit and “subsequently and routinely thereafter if visiting regularly”.

More information on the new visitor guidelines can be found here.

It comes amid confusion at Adelaide Airport, as people arriving from overseas are ordered into hotel quarantine despite having approval to isolate at home.

Adelaide doctor John Meegan told InDaily his family was left shocked and confused when his son Xavier, 25, arrived last Thursday night after two years in Europe and was abruptly sent to the Playford medi-hotel.

“They just whisked him away in a bus and he spent three stressful nights there,” Meegan said.

The family had believed he would be allowed to quarantine in their large home with his own bedroom and ensuite.

“Every time my son spoke to someone at the hotel he got a different story,” Meegan said.

“What was really stressful was arriving with no warning whatsoever, or information provided to you, and then just being whisked off on a bus when we’d been told to turn up to the airport and pick him up.

“And then having him locked away for a few days without any further information.”

Xavier was eventually allowed to leave three days later to quarantine alone in a family beach house on the south coast.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Government and SA Health in trying to keep everybody safe,” Meegan said.

“We would have been happy to comply with any directive they gave to us as long as we were given clear and transparent information, consistent with the government policy, in a timely fashion that was properly communicated.

“It is very stressful after two years of separation, and having to frantically readjust for Omicron and everything else, when you arrive, and with no warning and without proper information and with conflicting advice, you don’t really know what is going on.”

Australian golfer Wade Ormsby tweeted about his “welcome home” to South Australia from Singapore yesterday.

“Jammed on a bus, sent to hotel quarantine. Pre approved for home quarantine as I’m double vaxxed and qualify via criteria set by our government,” he said.

“Completed entry check SA and approved. Zero information.”

Asked about the confusion and if it was a consequence of Omicron, Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens this morning said that was “a question for SA Health”.

“My understanding is the goal is to have as many people quarantining at home as possible and they’re working towards that,” he said.

“Some people will be required to quarantine in a medi-hotel because of their particular circumstances but by and large most people should be able to quarantine at home if they have suitable quarantine facilities.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for SA Health said: “Up until 27th November, international arrivals pre-approved for home quarantine were able to directly travel from the airport to their home.”

“With the WHO declaration regarding Omicron, in an abundance of caution, international arrivals have been taken to a medi-hotel, for a short period of time to allow for assessment of the suitability of the home quarantine arrangement and to ensure testing compliance.

“The processes at the airport are being reviewed to support travellers approved to home quarantine to safely transit directly home as well as ensuring testing upon disembarkation of the flight.”

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