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'Crippling' hospitality caps first in line for lift as Omicron peak passes

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UPDATED: Premier Steven Marshall says SA is “slightly past the peak” of the Omicron outbreak and that hospitality density limits will be the first restrictions to be eased, as the state recorded 1953 new COVID-19 cases and another 13 deaths overnight.

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The 1953 new coronavirus cases recorded in the 24 hours to midnight last night is a reduction on yesterday’s figure of 2401 cases, but the number of infectious people in hospital remains at 288.

Intensive care admissions rose by one to 27, while five people are now on ventilators, but Marshall said the state was “well within our capacity in terms of… people being in hospitals, both here in metropolitan Adelaide and our country hospitals as well”.

“Things are tracking well at the moment,” he said this morning.

“Certainly in terms of the curve distributions that we were presented with, it would seem that we are just slightly past that peak in South Australia at the moment.”

However, the state recorded another 13 COVID-related deaths overnight, including a man in his 50s, a man in is 70s, two men in their 80s, two men in their 90s, two women in their 60s, two women in their 70s, one woman in her 80s and two women in their 90s.

SA Health said in a statement this afternoon that the 13 deaths since yesterday include reconciled data from the last two weeks.

There have now been 100 COVID-related deaths reported in South Australia since the start of the pandemic.

University of Adelaide Professor of Applied Mathematics Joshua Ross met with Marshall this morning to update him on new modelling that predicts infection and hospitalisation rates once South Australia starts easing restrictions.

The modelling is yet to be publicly released, but Marshall said it showed that South Australia had reached its caseload peak.

He said the first restrictions to be eased would be the hospitality caps imposed five weeks ago, which restrict venues to 25 per cent capacity indoors and 50 per cent capacity outside.

Venues are also currently prohibited from serving alcohol to people while standing.

“I was asked which (restrictions) would be first (to be eased) and I think the density arrangements would necessarily be the first,” Marshall said.

“The reason for that… is in terms of hospitality, it specifically relates to jobs as well.

“I know that the caps for home gatherings can be annoying for people, but we’ve got to be mindful when we’re looking at easing the restrictions of three issues: the health, the social and the welfare and also the economic, and from an economic perspective we know that this is very crippling on many small businesses.

“That will be our highest priority.”

The announcement was welcomed by Australian Hotels Association state general manager Ian Horne, who called on the Government to increase indoor density caps to 50 per cent “as a matter of priority”.

But Horne said he wasn’t confident that Marshall would follow through with the promise.

“We’re not optimistic that we’re going to get anything in the near future,” he said.

“History doesn’t read well.

“To give an example, the July lockdown in 2021 we were shut down and Perth had a similar one and in three weeks Perth returned to 100 per cent capacity in the hospitality industry but we never did.

“We continued for five months with what we said at the time and what proved to be absolutely unnecessary and brutal restrictions at a time when leading into Christmas and New Year was the most productive for business.”

Horne said the upcoming Fringe festival would put “significant pressure” on the Government to ease hospitality restrictions in the coming weeks, adding summer had been “a complete write off” for the industry.

“The Fringe, because it is such a high-profile event, might help the rest of the hospitality industry get back to some better trading arrangements,” he said.

“We won’t know that until the press conference on Saturday, Sunday or next week.”

It comes as state and territory leaders meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at national cabinet meeting this afternoon to discuss the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marshall said supply chain disruptions would be on the agenda, including potentially relaxing quarantine requirements for more workers in critical industries.

“There are still some very significant supply chains disrupted, especially around people who are in quarantine – either COVID-positive or close contacts,” he said.

“It’s probably having lesser effect here in South Australia, but nevertheless, there are supply chains that are disrupted into our state as well.”

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