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Mask removal deadline on track as vax clinics extended

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The Malinauskas Government says South Australia is on track for mask mandates to be axed next Thursday as planned, but doctors warn it’s too early to be making such a promise and could overload struggling hospitals if done too soon.

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It comes as South Australia today recorded 5068 new COVID cases with 206 people in hospital including 11 in intensive care.

Four more people with COVID have died – all women aged in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

Following a meeting of the state’s Emergency Management Council this morning, Premier Peter Malinauskas a short time ago told reporters that modelling was still suggesting mask rules could safely be removed on April 14 as scheduled.

“But we continue to monitor the hospitalisation rates and the case numbers to make sure that we’re operating within the model,” he said.

Malinauskas said new modelling presented to the Government this morning – to be made public this afternoon – “indicates that we are largely on track to operate below what the potential peaks were”.

“But naturally this is still a live situation where things are evolving,” he said.

Recent modelling showed South Australia could reach 8000 daily cases at its peak in April.

The Premier also this morning announced a decision to “reverse” the closure of some vaccination clinics under the previous government, saying they will now be kept open for a few months longer at a cost of $637,000, which Malinauskas said was a “small price to pay”.

He said some clinics were due to close this week with all but two state-run clinics to be shut within weeks and Wayville clinic closing by May 29.

Wayville will now stay open until July 31, with other clinics extended until June 30.

Malinauskas said this would help 300,000 South Australians overdue or eligible for their booster to get their shot, with rates “lagging”.

“We need that winter dose taken up by those South Australians that are eligible,” he said.

“We know that if someone chooses not to be vaccinated and they are subsequently hospitalised they are taking up a hospital bed from someone else who may need it.

“If you choose not to be vaccinated, you are limiting the options available to government to release and relieve the state of restrictions.”

In his first week as Premier, Malinauskas announced a decision to halve the quarantine period for household close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases from 14 days to seven, and set April 14 – heading into the Easter long weekend – as the likely date to remove mask rules.

But doctors warn it could be too soon, especially if there are any unforeseen changes.

Australian Medical Association federal vice-president and SA GP Dr Chris Moy said “masks should be the last to go”.

“They are really high effect for little inconvenience, compared to things like close contact quarantine and iso,” he told InDaily.

“They are high bang for buck. I know it’s annoying but compared to the other things – being stuck in iso for a week – it’s nothing.”

Moy said he had seen new modelling that showed South Australia was “ticking along the lower end” of expected cases, however he said there were variables that could make a difference.

“My guess is it’s going to be in the next week or so that they’ll see the peak,” he said.

“I don’t think they can see today what they’re going to be able to predict. I don’t think they can be absolutely sure, that’s the problem at the moment.

“You can set predicted dates but you don’t do it just because you’ve made a promise. Covid may not go to your timeline. When we’ve got into trouble is when people have gone against the science and the health.

“It would be a train wreck if you ended up in a situation where it wasn’t holding and suddenly you really overload the hospitals.”

Moy said more people needed to take up the booster and more children needed to get vaccinated to offset waning vaccination protection and high hospitalisation rates not just from COVID but other causes.

“We’ve just got to make sure this last peak isn’t going to undo our hospitals at the moment which are under a lot of pressure,” he said.

“Numbers in hospital is the main game. I know the numbers in hospital (from COVID) are not as high as they were during the earlier peak but our hospitals are much more chockers at the moment and it’s a problem.

“There’s still a little bit of uncertainty despite the fact that things are tracking alright.

“You don’t want to crash the car just to hold the promise and when you’ve just got hold of the steering wheel.”

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