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‘We got it wrong’: SA Health boss concedes failures on border exemptions

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SA Health “miscalculated” the capacity it needed to process travel exemption requests from stranded South Australians interstate this year and was “caught off guard” by the numbers of people appealing to return home, its CEO says.

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Appearing before state parliament’s budget and finance committee this morning, SA Health CEO Dr Chris McGowan conceded SA Health was not initially prepared for the volume of South Australians wanting to come home.

At the height of NSW and Victoria’s most recent COVID-19 outbreaks, around 7000 South Australians in the eastern states waited for SA Health to respond to their exemption requests to travel into South Australia across a strict hard border.

Wait times for some South Australian residents blew out to more than a month.

“Clearly … we were a bit caught off guard by the volume of people from New South Wales and Victoria coming back,” McGowan told the committee.

“Our systems weren’t where we wanted them to be, and in fact when we geared up our systems for that, we miscalculated, we got it wrong.

“There’s a few things I think throughout this period of the pandemic I don’t think we got right.”

South Australia’s borders have been shut to most of New South Wales since June and nearly all of Victoria since July.

McGowan said SA Health was now processing exemption requests from the eastern states within 15 days.

It comes after parliament in August asked Health Minister Stephen Wade to provide “sufficient” resources to SA Health so they could process any travel exemption request within 21 days of receiving it.

“The Parliament asked us to make sure we were resourced to do that in 21 days, we’re certainly resourced to do it, getting the processes on the deck to make it happen is a different thing,” he said.

“I think that’s now happening in well under 21 days.

“Anybody with compassionate grounds … they get processed within 48 hours essentially.

Asked how many exemption requests were still outstanding, McGowan said the answer was “very complicated” because of the number of essential workers being processed, but said “it’s not a big backlog in relative terms”.

He earlier told the committee that any South Australian fully vaccinated and still in the eastern states should be able to fly home on November 23 without any restrictions.

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