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School holidays 'fortuitous' as COVID cases rise

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Premier Peter Malinauskas says it’s a “relief” that school holidays start next week amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases.

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SA Health today reported 3762 new COVID-19 cases, down from the 4072 new infections reported yesterday.

The number of people with COVID in hospital also dropped slightly from 267 yesterday, to 254 today.

Malinauskas said the number cases of was consistent with modelling produced by the University of Adelaide following the emergence of a new Omicron variant, BA.5.

Modellers predict South Australia will record between 5000 to 6000 daily COVID cases within three weeks’ time, with the number of people admitted to hospital because of COVID also set to rise from an estimated 75 patients currently to about 150 patients by the end of July.

“What we’re seeing with COVID case numbers is the realisation of what we had forecast would be the case,” Malinauskas told reporters this morning.

“What we know going forward is that there are likely to be instances over the months and potentially years ahead where COVID case numbers go up and down – they fluctuate.”

The Premier said it was “a little fortuitous” that the current school term ends tomorrow ahead of the predicted peak of the COVID wave, with health authorities hoping the two-week holiday break will reduce the chance of the virus spreading across families.

“The current COVID case numbers and the ticker, as was forecast by the model, now coincides with school holidays, which will potentially provide a degree of relief, particularly amongst young people over the next few weeks,” he said.

“That is a good thing.”

The government is yet to announce whether it will reimpose mask mandates in schools once Term 3 begins on July 25, with Malinauskas saying authorities “haven’t made any decisions”.

But he said authorities were not contemplating reimposing broader mask mandates, saying to do so the government would need to declare another emergency declaration.

That is despite Police Commissioner Grant Stevens telling ABC Radio Adelaide yesterday that reintroducing mask mandates was “certainly up for consideration”.

“There is not currently any suggestion that a wholesale mask mandate should be introduced, rather, we will continue to rely on South Australians… following the advice where it is appropriate to do so,” Malinauskas insisted this morning.

“There are still places where you do have to wear a mask, like an aged care facility or a hospital for instance, but the reintroduction of masks on a wholesale mandatory basis is not something that we’re exploring.”

Masks are also still mandatory on public transport and for close contacts for seven days after they are exposed to a positive case.

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier has also urged people to consider wearing a mask while inside crowded public venues, such as supermarkets.

Ahead of the anticipated case peak, the government has scrambled to open additional beds in metropolitan hospitals, with SA Health opening new beds in the outskirts of Adelaide, as well as in some private hospitals.

Health Minister Chris Picton on Tuesday said the state’s hospital system was facing a “really dangerous situation” and that there wasn’t enough capacity to deal with the forecasted demand.

Malinauskas today said that the government believed it had done “everything we possibly can in terms of gearing up the hospital system, to be able to accommodate that demand”.

“We do know, of course, that the demand is putting extraordinary pressure on the system around the country, in fact, every health system around the world,” he said.

Premier welcomes decision on fourth booster shot

Meanwhile, Malinauskas said he welcomed a decision by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATARGI) to expand the fourth COVID-19 vaccination dose eligibility.

ATARGI discussed the benefits of expanding the eligibility at a meeting yesterday, but federal Health Minister Mark Butler said he didn’t expect to get official advice until tomorrow.

Currently a fourth vaccination – or second booster – is only available to those over 65, people in aged or disability care and those who are immunocompromised.

The Australian newspaper reported last night that ATAGI would recommend fourth doses for anyone over the age of 50, and allow anyone over the age of 30 to have another booster shot if they wish to have one.

Malinauskas said there was an unanimity of opinion among South Australian authorities that expanding the eligibility was a “good thing”.

“I think (there’s) a lot of people in the community that want to get a fourth dose but haven’t been eligible for it,” he said.

“They now will be and they will take it up.

“I certainly welcome the announcement that has been made by ATARGI and the Commonwealth.”

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