'Biggest test to date': South Australian premier announces new restrictions to combat coronavirus cluster

A raft of new restrictions will come into effect from midnight tonight after a cluster of coronavirus cases in Adelaide rose to 17.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall.

The death was announced by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall. Source: AAP

Premier Steven Marshall has announced a series of new restrictions for South Australia, as officials work to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in Adelaide's north that grew to 17 cases overnight.

Mr Marshall on Monday said restrictions on pubs, restaurants and gyms and limits on various gatherings will come into effect from midnight and remain for at least two weeks.

He says coronavirus testing stations will operate on extended hours and the state's contact tracing resources have been increased. 

"We are now facing our biggest test to date," the premier said.

"We are working around the clock to stay ahead of this cluster. No effort will be spared to slow and stop the spread.

"Time is now of the essence. We cannot wait to see how bad this gets.

"We don't want to keep these new and changed restrictions in place for one day longer than we need to, but the health advice is very clear. We need to act hard and early."

Restrictions to come into effect from midnight on Monday:

• Gyms, recreation centres and play cafes will be closed, in directions likely to remain in place for two weeks.

• Community sports fixtures and training will be temporarily cancelled, both indoors and outdoors. Bootcamps can continue.

• Funerals will now be capped at 50 people, with one person per four square metres.

• Churches will be capped at 100 people, with one person per four square metres.

• Pubs, clubs and restaurants will be capped at 100 per venue with one per four square metres.

• Private gatherings at licensed venues will be capped at 50 people per venue.

• Private residences will be capped at 10 people per home. 

• There will be no changes to the numbers of people permitted at weddings, but all guests must now be registered in advance.

• Schools will remain open.

The premier advised South Australians to work from home where possible, urging those who are considered vulnerable to stay at home and avoid having visitors. 

He also confirmed that international flights into the state have been suspended for the rest of the week.

Authorities reveal overnight spike in cases

South Australia's Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier revealed the spike on Monday after SA Health on Sunday .

The new cases were picked up on Saturday after a woman in her 80s went to Adelaide's Lyell McEwin Hospital for testing and was hospitalised.

Two of her family members, a woman in her 50s and a man in his 60s, also tested positive.

One of the pair worked in a medi-hotel used by people travelling into the state and local residents who can't quarantine at home.

Dr Spurrier confirmed the Port Adelaide Hungry Jack's has been closed for deep cleaning, as well as Mawson Lakes Primary School and Preschool and the Parafield Plaza Supermarket.

"We just kept getting positives coming off the machine," she told ABC radio on Monday, adding it was clear the cluster was linked to a medi-hotel.

"We haven't got the genomics yet, but I'm absolutely certain it has come from a medi-hotel," she said.

The 80-year-old woman lives independently and is the mother of one of the younger pair, who are in a relationship.

Contact tracing is also underway for about 90 staff and patients at the Lyell McEwin Hospital who may have come into contact with the older woman.

The woman had also visited Parafield Plaza Supermarket in Adelaide's north on Thursday while infectious.

A South Australian aged care facility in the city has been placed into lockdown, with two aged care workers among the 17 new cases who both worked while infectious.

All staff working at SA's quarantine hotels have been ordered to undertake mandatory virus testing every seven days.

"It's obvious that this is the highest risk in Australia right now is this risk of importation (of the virus) in our quarantine hotels," Dr Spurrier said on Sunday.

The new rule includes police, nurses, concierge, cleaners and security guards.

Five states impose border restrictions on South Australia

Queensland has joined Victoria, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Western Australia in imposing restrictions on travellers from South Australia.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was the latest state leader on Monday to confirm her new border closure, with anyone returning to Queensland from Adelaide urged to self-quarantine and get tested.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said his state will declare South Australia a hotspot.

"I’m confident SA will get on top of this, and if there’s anything we can do, large or small, we of course stand ready to do that," he said in a Monday morning press conference.

However, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has confirmed her state will keep its borders open to South Australia.

“We’re confident that if that happened in NSW, we’d get on top of it, and that’s what’s happening in South Australia - they’re getting on top of it,” she said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the South Australian outbreak was a “timely reminder” that closed borders don’t protect you from the virus.

“There are no absolute fail-safes in this,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Monday afternoon. “The virus hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still there, and it will seek to exploit any vulnerability, however small or great.”

Asked whether this would jeopardise the chance of borders opening before Christmas, Mr Morrison said he “hopes not”.

“While the events in South Australia and in the last 48 hours are of course of very serious concern and are treated as such … I think it is important to understand that Australia is doing incredibly well, compared to all the other countries, but one of the reasons that we do is we are not compliant about it. We are very cautious and attentive to what needs to happen.

“That will be the case in South Australia as all states and territories you would expect it to be.”

New cluster casts doubt on borders

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is confident South Australian authorities will bring the outbreak under control.

He has offered to send Australian Defence Force troops and a national incident centre is being set up.

"If more is required, more will be provided," Mr Hunt told the ABC on Monday.

"But these are the sorts of challenges that if we trade or engage with the world, if we bring Australians home, we will face, in a world where there's over half a million cases a day.

"Having these strong testing, tracing and isolation systems are absolutely critical, and South Australia - on all the evidence - does have exactly that."

The cluster has already caused major disruptions, with Western Australia making a snap decision to reimpose border restrictions.

Mr Hunt said there was no medical basis for any state or territory to remain closed.

He said coronavirus cases were bound to flare up across the country at different times but there were strong systems in place to deal with any outbreak.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt Source: AAP

Victoria has now gone 17 days without any coronavirus cases or deaths.

But Mr Hunt, who hails from Victoria, is reluctant to give the state government credit for keeping the state in lockdown while bringing a second wave under control.

"We always supported, reluctantly and regretfully, going into lockdown once the contact tracing system wasn't able to cope in Victoria," he said.

"There were some differences about the speed at the end, particularly once they were well below their case level that NSW was able to manage.

"We felt that perhaps we had more confidence in their system than they did on the way out."

- Additional reporting by AAP.

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8 min read
Published 16 November 2020 at 6:36am
By Gavin Fernando