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Focus on close contact rules as Stevens looks to extend emergency powers

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UPDATED: State emergency coordinator Grant Stevens says he would like to relax close contact quarantine rules and has asked to extend emergency powers for potentially the last time – while confirming that government vaccination mandates would end when the legislation lapses.

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It comes as the number of new COVID-19 infections in South Australia today spiked to 2075 – the highest number since January 26, when 2401 cases were reported.

A man in his 50s and a man in his 70 who tested positive for COVID-19 died, while the number of people in hospital increased to 112 – 64 of whom were fully-vaccinated.

Authorities are set to announce the next tranche of eased restrictions next Friday, after last week increasing hospitality density limits and allow dancing and singing at private functions.

Stevens said this morning that authorities were discussing whether to adjust quarantine rules, with chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier agreeing to review “whether there were any concessions that could be made to for people who are identified as close contacts”.

He said the “only stumbling block” was that Spurrier was on leave this week, meaning discussions to relax close contact quarantine requirements could stall.

“That confidence we have now that Omicron is less severe than previous strains means we can start to think about easing off on some of these close contact obligations,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“I think one thing that would be hugely beneficial for business and from a social point as well would be if asymptomatic close contacts are able to undertake certain activities within the community, whether they be employment-based or socially-based.

“It’s something I’d like to see, but I’d certainly take the advice from SA Health on that one because we are talking about how the disease is transmitted and they’d be the experts in that field.”

One of the major contributors to recent COVID-19 infections in South Australia has been the return of schools, with latest data from the Education Department, accurate as of Tuesday, showing 2.2 per cent of public school students are currently absent due to the virus.

Asked this morning whether the government would relax isolation requirements for parents of school children who test positive, Premier Steven Marshall said “not immediately”.

“When we look at the impact on schools in South Australia, although it does have a very significant impact on some families and on some schools, in total, we’re very much at the lower end of disruption compared to other states,” he said.

“We do have some very strict controls in place so it doesn’t get away from us.

“But we are at a situation now where our hospital numbers are falling quite dramatically and it does present us with some other opportunities to continue to reduce restrictions going forward.”

Marshall said the COVID-Ready committee was “continuing to meet every week right throughout this period”, and had recently focussed on reducing the number of cases across the state’s Aboriginal communities.

“Even in that really tough sector we’ve seen big improvements over the last four or six weeks,” he said.

“That just opens up a lot of opportunities to continue to reduce those settings, the restrictions, but also how we isolate people.”

Meanwhile, Stevens said authorities were reviewing daily the need to keep the state’s major emergency declaration in place.

The declaration, which has been in place since 2020, gives Stevens broad powers to do whatever is deemed necessary to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, including introducing vaccination mandates for industries such as health, aged care and education.

“I have requested a further 28-day extension (and) that may potentially be the last one, but we have to wait and see how we’re going,” he said.

“The fact we have the election coming up in just a couple of weeks is a bit of a barrier for us because at the moment the declaration enables me to override the Electoral Act and permit people to obtain postal voting packs up to and including election day.

“In the absence of my ability to do that then people quarantining with COVID-19 would not be able to access their right to vote, so… that’s part of the reasoning for recommending a further 28-day extension.”

Stevens said once the emergency declaration ends, all directions issued under it would cease to exist.

Asked if that would impact workplace vaccine mandates, Stevens replied: “it does – any workplace that has a mandate as a result of a direction under the Act would no longer have that direction in place”.

“If they want to continue with a mandate they (employers) would have to look at management directions using other legislation.”

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