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No imminent change to isolation mandate for COVID-positive South Australians

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Maintaining isolation requirements for COVID-positive South Australians will be “essential into the winter months” to protect the community, the Health Minister has declared while introducing a Bill to Parliament to allow existing restrictions to stay in place when special emergency powers lapse.

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Health Minister Chris Picton this morning tabled the South Australian Public Health (COVID-19) Amendment Bill 2022, which would replace existing emergency powers that currently give state coordinator and Police Commissioner Grant Stevens the power to decide the level of restrictions for the state.

Those special powers – which have been in place since the start of the pandemic and extended 28 times – are due to expire at the end of the month, with the State Government stating it wants them to cease altogether by the end of June.

The bill would allow existing remaining restrictions – including seven-day isolation requirements for people with COVID, mask mandates in high-risk settings and vaccination mandates for healthcare workers – to remain.

If any new restrictions are required, the state of emergency powers would need to be re-instated.

“Following the expiry of the declaration it is important to ensure continuity of some baseline measures to help manage the pandemic and protect the most vulnerable members of our community,” Picton told Parliament this morning.

“With COVID-19 transmission continuing in South Australia there remains a need to maintain some targeted measures to monitor the incidence and prevalence of the disease and mitigate transmission.

“Isolation requirements for cases will be essential into the winter months to limit transmission of COVID-19 into the South Australian community and reduce the risk of overwhelming the healthcare system.

“Infection prevention control measures including mask-wearing and staff vaccination requirements will still be important in high-risk settings such as residential aged care, disability and healthcare settings.”

The Opposition says it intends to support the Bill in the Lower House but might have further questions about the new powers before supporting it in the Upper House.

Penny Pratt, the lead speaker for the Opposition on the Bill, told Parliament: “The Opposition will be supporting the Bill in the House of Assembly, reserving our right to further consider matters and raise them in the Legislative Council.”

“It is important that this state maintains agility,” she said.

“The pandemic is not over, it is not predictable.”

In England, there are now no legal requirements for people with COVID to isolate, with the matter now being discussed in Australia.

Asked further about South Australia’s intentions, Picton told InDaily “there are no immediate plans to remove the limited remaining COVID restrictions however these are under ongoing review”.

“While there are no plans for imminent changes to quarantine rules for COVID-positive people, the Emergency Management Council receives the latest expert advice on these matters including from AHPPC (Australian Health Protection Principal Committee) and will continue to monitor this issue,” he said.

“The legislation seeks to transition from the State Coordinator issuing directions under a Major Emergency Declaration to these matters being decided through the Emergency Management Council process, which is a sub-committee of Cabinet.”

Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning he would be happy to relinquish his powers.

“The plan is to set a level of baseline requirements for managing the pandemic going forward,” he said.

“It’s for things like making sure people who are COVID-positive isolate, that we have the ability to require high-risk locations to have certain conditions in place so we can protect vulnerable people.

“They’re the sorts of things that will be left as the baseline and I think it will be the responsibility of the Emergency Management Council for COVID… to manage those going forward.

“I think there’s going to be quite a tight arrangement that doesn’t allow for the same sorts of broad powers I have under the Emergency Management Act.

“The Emergency Management Act… gives me broad powers to do a whole range of things. What we want going forward will be far more constrained and to maintain the status quo so that SA Health can properly manage the pandemic as we work through the tail of it.”

Stevens said if any new restrictions were required, another emergency declaration would be needed, reinstating his decision-making powers.

“The potential for another human epidemic to impact on South Australians is still there and if that was to occur, even if it is COVID – and we saw a massive impact on our community, we saw devastating consequences in relation to mortality or our hospitals were overwhelmed – then it is still within my authority to declare another major emergency so I can enliven the powers under the emergency management act to get on top of that, to prevent significant harm to the community and to community members,” he said.

“That’s what happened back in March 2020. Taking into account all of the circumstances and the steps needed to deal with what was on the horizon, I made the decision to declare a major emergency.”

Stevens said his powers could cease before the end of May, “depending on how quickly this Bill gets dealt with”.

Asked whether South Australians could soon see a change to the seven-day isolation requirement for people with COVID, such as imposing isolation only for those with symptoms, Stevens said: “That’s possible but that’s certainly something I think we’d need advice from AHPPC.”

“They will make a decision about whether or not there is scope to adjust the requirements for people who are COVID positive,” he said.

“It is something that might be discussed, it might see a change but that’s definitely a public health call.”

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