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COVID restrictions stay amid new variant warnings

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South Australian authorities have decided to keep current COVID restrictions in place amid warnings that case numbers and hospitalisations will rise as a new Omicron strain hits the state.

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Premier Peter Malinauskas told reporters a short time ago that the Emergency Management Council decided this morning not to ease any remaining restrictions – including vaccination mandates for allied health workers – after new modelling showed SA could expect cases to rise now that the BA.5 strain had been detected in the state.

That modelling is expected to be released to the public at a press conference later this afternoon.

“We did receive an update in the modelling and contained within that modelling is as we knew was eventually going to occur – an expectation that case numbers may yet go up at some point over the course of the next six to eight weeks or so depending on the way the new BA.5 variant starts to roll through South Australia,” Malinauskas said.

“The information that was presented to us this morning was that in New South Wales currently the new BA.5 variant numbers have gone up quite dramatically, to a lesser extent in Victoria, and there is now a small presence of the BA.5 variant in South Australia.

“The information that we received suggested that the new BA.5 variant isn’t any more dangerous than previous iterations but may potentially result in case numbers going up – that’s a function of potential increased transmissibility but also issues around immune escape which are still to be determined and the science is currently evolving on.”

It comes as South Australia today recorded 2270 new cases, as well as eleven deaths reported to SA Health from data reconciliation between February 26 and June 19.

There are 230 people with COVID in hospital, including nine in intensive care.

“South Australians would have seen that… case numbers have come down quite dramatically, they dropped below 2000 last week, they’re currently hovering around that 2000 number, however hospitalisation numbers have remained rather static – a bit over that 200 level,” Malinauskas said.

“But the advice that we received this morning is that the presence of the BA.5 variant in the eastern states and the small presence of it in South Australia means potentially cases numbers could go up over coming weeks.

“And this is what we are going to see over the course of the months and potentially years ahead, is that case numbers will go up, case numbers will go down and we are to be equipped to be able to handle that circumstance.”

Malinauskas said “the prospect of case numbers going back up again is something that as policy makers we have to be conscious of and turn our minds to and it’s important that South Australians do too”.

“That’s not a source of panic – we don’t anticipate that would necessitate changes in restrictions or anything like that but is just information that has come to light,” he said.

Malinauskas said he had asked for the new modelling to be released to the public, which he expected chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier and Health Minister Chris Picton to do at a press conference scheduled for 1.30pm.

Asked whether he expected hospital numbers to rise, Malinauskas said “potentially they would go up a bit but not dramatically, but any increase in pressure on our hospitals is something that we are concerned about given the strain it’s under”.

He revealed some elective surgeries had already been cancelled.

“Minister Picton will be able to go into that in a bit of detail but I do understand… that there have been instances of elective surgery being wound back,” he said.

“We haven’t yet seen a statewide ban on elective surgery and that is always an option that is available but there have been elective surgeries wound back to try and relieve pressure on the system.”

Malinauskas said vaccine mandates for allied health workers would remain for now although he’s asked for a report on the matter.

“This is something that’s in place across the country and South Australia is not unique in our arrangement,” he said.

“And therefore there isn’t any appetite or argument I think for us to go out of step with the rest of the nation in this regard. Vaccinations do still remain important in protecting people and for the time being we anticipate that will remain the case.

“In terms of the allied health sector I will continue to ask the questions but I don’t see a circumstance where South Australia moves out of step with the rest of the nation in this regard.”

Asked whether South Australia might follow Victoria’s lead and allow COVID positive people to do things like drive their car to drop their children at school, Malinauskas said “that’s not something we are changing here in South Australia”.

“We’ll observe how that rolls out in Victoria,” he said.

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