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Close contact rules relaxed, April deadline to remove masks

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The quarantine period for household close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases has been halved from 14 days to seven while an April 14 deadline has been set to remove mask-wearing rules, Premier Peter Malinauskas has announced.

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Effective immediately, household close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases – including those currently in quarantine – only have to isolate for seven days instead of the previous 14.

Close contacts will only be allowed to leave quarantine after seven days if they return a negative PCR or rapid antigen test.

From tomorrow, the definition of a close contact will also change from someone who has spent 15 minutes or longer with a positive case during their infectious period, to four hours.

The government will also increase the period in which somebody who has previously been infected with COVID is immune from being identified a close contact, from eight weeks post-isolation to 12 weeks.

The changes were announced by Malinauskas a short time ago following a meeting of the state’s Emergency Management Council.

The Premier said the changes would bring South Australia “into line with the rest of the nation” and would go “a long way to releasing a lot of people who are currently or could be close contacts to be able to go on with their daily lives”.

“We want to get to national consistency, we want South Australians to be able to enjoy changes in COVID management that other parts of the country have, but we’ve got to be able to manage that in a clinically appropriate way consistent with the health advice,” he said.

“The art here is getting that balance right.”

Malinauskas said agreement was also reached on an April 14 deadline to remove mask-wearing rules.

He said masks would still be required in “high-risk settings” such as aged care facilities and hospitals, but the “general mask mandates applying throughout the state” would be removed.

“I think most South Australians can’t wait for the day to come when they are not required to wear masks,” he said.

“Barring a big change in circumstances, barring a new variant and what have you then we are working towards removing mask mandates that apply generally to the people of South Australia by the 14th of April – that is the day before Easter.

“That is not far away.”

Malinauskas said from tomorrow, masks will only need to be worn at the entry and exit of Adelaide Oval, as well as in fully-enclosed indoor areas.

He said mask-wearing changes would require a change in directions, meaning state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens would require a further 28-day extension to the major emergency declaration.

“I’ve assured the Police Commissioner that my cabinet will approve that,” he said.

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said authorities were confident about relaxing restrictions given the state’s vaccination rate.

She said new modelling from the University of Adelaide showed if South Australia removed its mask-wearing rules and relaxed quarantine requirements today there would be a “significant increase in the number of cases”.

“If we delay… until we’re over the peak to remove the masks and also change the close contact (rules), we end up in a pretty good situation,” she said.

“I’m very confident with these changes and I think we’ve got this modelling which supports it.

“The reason we can make these changes is because we’ve now got the vaccine and we’re getting people vaccinated.

“I feel very confident that we’ll be fine.”

Spurrier said SA Health would boost its capacity to hand out rapid antigen tests and conduct PCR swabs by transferring staff who previously worked in medi-hotels to testing sites.

South Australia recorded 4549 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 28,190.

There are 157 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including six intensive care and one on a ventilator.

Four people who tested positive for COVID-19 have died, including a man in his 30s, a man in his 40s, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s.

Health Minister warns of hospital ‘crisis’

Meanwhile, Health Minister Chris Picton has warned of a hospital “crisis”, with modelling predicting an additional 100 COVID cases in hospitals each day over the coming weeks.

“We’ve seen on a daily basis 100 people or so stuck in our emergency departments waiting for beds in hospital and that’s without this increased number of COVID-19 hospitalisations that we’re expecting in coming weeks,” he said.

“Both the Premier and I in the past few days have made unannounced drop-in visits to our hospital emergency departments.

“Unfortunately, we are in a situation where we haven’t seen that preparation of our hospital system.

“We are having to do very urgent work to try to find any bed capacity we can.”

Picton said the “only reason” the hospital system coped over the last COVID-19 peak in January was because elective surgery was cancelled.

“That is a huge disruption on people in terms of getting their operations, obviously worse health outcomes for them and more pressure on the health system down the track,” he said.

“We are doing all the work we possibly can right now.”

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