SA winds back virus rules, despite record case leap

South Australia is welcoming back overseas travellers as the state records 1217 new COVID cases.

South Australia is welcoming back overseas travellers as the state records 1217 new COVID cases. Photo: Getty

Vaccinated people will be allowed to dance and stand up while drinking at licensed venues, nightclubs will reopen and home gathering caps will lift from December 28, authorities have announced, as South Australia confirmed another 64 COVID cases.

Premier Steven Marshall said on Friday the state’s transition committee had agreed to lift some internal restrictions on December 28 – the estimated date for when 90 per cent of South Australians aged over 12 will be fully-vaccinated.

He said authorities would “reward” businesses that allowed only vaccinated customers by increasing density caps and permitting currently-banned activities such as dancing and stand-up alcohol consumption.

But some restrictions, such as mask-wearing inside public venues and on public transport, will remain.

From December 28, the following restrictions will apply:

  • People will be allowed to sing, dance and drink alcohol while standing in licensed venues that allow only vaccinated customers
  • Venues that allow stand-up alcohol consumption and dancing can operate only at up to 75 per cent capacity
  • Venues that are seated-only and allow only vaccinated customers can operate at 100 per cent capacity
  • Venues that allow unvaccinated customers must remain seated-only and operate at 75 per cent capacity
  • The home gathering cap of 30 people will lift
  • The capacity for COVID management plan events will increase from 1000 to 3000 people
  • Nightclubs can reopen at 50 per cent capacity, provided they enforce a vaccine mandate
  • Gyms can operate at 50 per cent capacity if they enforce a vaccine mandate, or 25 per cent capacity if they allow unvaccinated clients

Mr Marshall said the government was giving people and businesses a choice about enforcing vaccine mandates.

“We’re rewarding those … indoor venues who are going to operate in a fully-vaccinated way with reduced restrictions,” he said.

“Many people have already said, ‘look, my gym is 100 per cent vaccinated or my staff and my clients are vaccinated’ [and] they need to have a reward for that because it is going to be a lower-level risk in those settings.”

Also from December 28, the SA government will reduce the mandatory quarantine period for vaccinated international arrivals from seven days to 72 hours.

Unvaccinated travellers will still be required to quarantine in a medi-hotel for 14 days.

Mr Marshall said it was “quite possible” that South Australia would drop quarantine requirements for vaccinated international travellers soon.

“We’ve always taken a prudent approach here in South Australia,” he said.

“We will be the second lowest in the country with 72 hours, and most of the other states are still at 14 days.”

People travelling into South Australia from the eastern states will still be required to get tested 72 hours before travelling, and again on arrival.

“That is going to be with us, I think, for quite an extended period of time,” Mr Marshall said.

“The reality is that we are now in the suppression stage [of the pandemic].

“We’re putting speed bumps in the way of Omicron, but because of the great work of the people of South Australia, doing that work and having that vaccination it means that we can start to relax the restrictions.

“We’re doing it in a prudent and careful way, keeping restriction sin place in order to stop that spread going through South Australia too quickly.”

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said approximately 10 per cent of cases reported in South Australia were international arrivals, while interstate travellers accounted for 30 per cent of the caseload.

“We’re certainly getting more of a disease burden from interstate,” she said.

sa covid parliament

Nicola Spurrier said SA would move to “less rigorous” contact tracing as COVID case numbers climbed.

Sixty-four new COVID cases in SA

It cam as SA confirmed another 64 virus cases on Friday, including 49 acquired locally, bringing its total number of active cases to 167.

People again face hours-long wait-times at testing sites across Adelaide, with more than 19,000 tests conducted on Thursday.

Professor Spurrier said no aged-care residents had tested positive for COVID-19, after two infectious health care workers tested positive after visiting multiple aged-care facilities last week.

But she said it was likely that there would be new infections from the Ashes Test at Adelaide Oval.

“To be perfectly frank, I would be very surprised if we have zero cases at the cricket,” she said.

“I think we will have cases of people who have come from NSW or Victoria.”

Mr Marshall said infections in South Australia would continue to climb as the Omicron variant was proving “far more transmissible” than the Delta variant.

He said authorities would focus on hospitalisation rates as the “key metric”, rather than case numbers.

“We’ve had our borders open for more than three weeks, we’ve had Omicron cases in South Australia but only three admissions to hospital, no admission to ICU, no admission into a unit that has a ventilator,” he said.

“The reality is we’re very pleased with that. In fact, we only have one person in hospital at the moment, and they’re in a stable condition.”

Mr Marshall said authorities would carefully monitor hospitalisation rates in South Australia, but the Omicron variant was proving to bring “far less severe” symptoms compared to Delta.

“We’re watching NSW, in particular, very closely at the moment because they have had a very significant increase in community transmissions of the Omicron cases there. But, to date, there hasn’t been that escalation in terms of their hospitalisation,” he said.

“They are ahead of the game in terms of what we’re experiencing here in South Australia, so we’ll continue to monitor that very carefully.”

Professor Spurrier said two shots of COVID vaccines were “likely to be not as effective as they were for Delta”, which was why authorities were encouraging booster shots.

She said as case numbers climbed in South Australia, SA Health would move to less rigorous contact tracing.

She said people who tested positive for COVID would no longer be required to have a “very long detailed interview”, but might be asked to complete an online survey.

“We’re here to save lives, to be perfectly blunt,” she said.

“What we’re focussing on is any high-risk occupation and that might be somebody who works in aged care, somebody that works in an abattoir, somebody that works in our hospitals – particularly people who are not vaccinated – we’ll be prioritising those people.

“It’s a different focus – it’s not trying to get hold of everybody as quickly as we have done in the past because that is not possible.”

  • This article first appeared in InDaily and is republished here with permission
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