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Still no word on SA vax target deadline

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Premier Steven Marshall says he still can’t set a date when South Australia expects to hit its 90 per cent vaccination target to ease most restrictions, and hopes tomorrow’s national cabinet meeting will provide more clarity on Omicron’s impact to the state’s COVID-19 roadmap.

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South Australia’s “COVID Ready Plan” released in October outlined that restrictions on “most activities” would be lifted and quarantine times for fully vaccinated international travellers would be removed when the state reaches 90 per cent vaccination for all over-12s.

As of Tuesday, 90.6 per cent of South Australians over the age of 12 have had at least one dose of a vaccine, while 82.7 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Premier Steven Marshall said he was “hopeful” SA could reach the 90 per cent milestone “by the end of the year”, although no firm date has been set.

“In the lead up to the 80 per cent we set a date (November 23) and we’ll be doing exactly the same with 90,” he said.

“But we just need a few more days to see what that run rate is going to be in South Australia.”

It comes after it emerged yesterday that the state’s main vaccination hub at Wayville would be closing for a fortnight over the Christmas period.

Only eight of 51 permanently stationed vaccination clinics run by SA Health will be open over the Christmas period, although some GPs and pharmacies will keep their doors open during the holiday season.

Asked whether paying public holiday rates to staff at the Wayville clinic over Christmas was a factor in the decision, Marshall said: “No, look, if it was necessary we would be keeping it open.”

“There are just dozens and dozens of sites across the state where people can have … their vaccination,” he said.

Marshall said demand at the state’s vaccination centres will increase at two points: on January 10 when the Pfizer rollout is likely to begin for five- to 11-year-olds, and in “March, April, May” when the majority of the state’s population becomes eligible for a booster shot.

“We’ve done all of that capacity planning, we put a massive increase in capacity in our vaccination clinics over the last couple of months,” he said.

“But we are going into a slight lull and there’s no point in keeping those open.”

Pfizer on Wednesday said preliminary evidence indicates that a third shot of its vaccine offers significantly more protection against the Omicron variant than two doses.

Despite calls to reduce the six-month gap between second and third shots, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation last week recommended keeping the interval at six months, but also recommended cutting the wait times for a third shot for immunocompromised people to two months.

National cabinet to provide advice on Omicron threat

Marshall said he was “very hopeful” tomorrow’s meeting of national cabinet would put South Australia’s reopening plan back on track, after the Omicron variant cast a cloud over whether restrictions would lift at 90 per cent vaccination.

The arrival of the WHO-designated “variant of concern” in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT prompted various changes to SA’s COVID plan, including an increase in the quarantine requirement for international travellers from seven days to 14 and the introduction of new test and quarantine orders for interstate arrivals.

South Australia’s COVID roadmap outline in October, which has seen several changes following the arrival of the Omicron variant.

Police commissioner and state emergency co-ordinator Grant Stevens indicated earlier in the week that lifting restrictions at 90 per cent would be “dependent on what we find out about Omicron”.

But Marshall today said he expected to know more information about the variant after tomorrow’s meeting of state and territory leaders.

“We have a national cabinet meeting this Friday, we’ll consider further information regarding the Omicron variant,” Marshall told reporters today.

“I’m very hopeful that we can get back onto that trajectory that we set some months ago with regards to the opening up of the South Australian economy and the reduction in restrictions.

“Certainly, we haven’t seen the massive escalation that many were predicting with regards to Omicron right across the country, but we’ll wait to get their expert advice before any knee jerk reactions either way.

“I’m hopeful that we can get the information tomorrow, get back onto the trajectory that we had coming out of national cabinet probably three months ago … and that we can ease restrictions by the end of this year.”

Marshall later in the day announced that international arrivals approved for home quarantine through EntryCheck SA will no longer be transferred to a medi-hotel.

It comes after international arrivals who were pre-approved for home quarantine were left confused this week when they were transferred to a medi-hotel from the airport. SA Health said the changes were in response to the Omicron variant.

The reversion to the original settings will come into effect from tomorrow, although the quarantine requirement remains 14 days.

In a statement, SA Health said: “People who are COVID-positive, close contacts or where there is a short-stay requirement at the direction of SA Health for a medi-hotel are not required to pay for their accommodation and meals.”

“All double-vaccinated international arrivals approved for home quarantine will again be able to travel from the airport to their approved location for 14 days of home quarantine if they have been pre-approved through EntryCheck SA, have suitable accommodation, and have downloaded and onboarded to HealthCheck SA.

“Due to the increased risk of the Omicron variant, travellers who have been in Africa or the Middle East will be streamlined into a quarantine facility for 14 days quarantine.”

“Unvaccinated interstate arrivals who receive an exemption to enter South Australia will be able to complete either hotel or home quarantine in an approved location, depending on their origin of travel, while double-vaccinated interstate travellers from higher risk areas are only required to quarantine until they have received a negative COVID test.”

Asked whether it was still the plan to completely remove quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers at the 90 per cent milestone, Marshall said: “We need to see what comes out of national cabinet tomorrow.”

“The Omicron variant has thrown a spanner in the works with regards to that, we moved out from seven days back up to 14 days for the timebeing,” he said.

“But I’m quite hopeful that we can get back on track.

“So hopefully tomorrow we’ll be in a better position to provide further information regarding our framework to get back on track.”

NSW today recorded eight new cases of the variant, taking its total number of Omicron cases to 42, while Victoria confirmed its first Omicron case on Wednesday and is investigating potentially two more.

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