South Australia records 774 new COVID cases, announces new social distancing measures
South Australia has set another daily COVID-19 case record, with 774 new infections, prompting authorities to announce the reintroduction of tougher social distancing measures at hospitality venues and for home gatherings ahead of New Year's celebrations.
- The 774 figure is SA's highest daily caseload of the pandemic
- From midnight, new restrictions will be placed on hospitality venues, gyms and home gatherings
- SA has also scrapped the pre-arrival testing requirement for interstate travellers
The latest cases take the state's total number of active cases to 3,196, and the tally since the start of the pandemic to 4,324.
A total of 3,402 of those cases — almost 80 per cent — have occurred in the 33 days since the state's border restrictions were repealed last month, and backlash is continuing to grow, including from nurses.
Seventeen people are currently in hospital, including three patients who are currently in intensive care.
The hospitalised cases also include a child, one person in their 20s and three in their 30s.
Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said 243 of the new cases were fully vaccinated and 47 were unvaccinated, but the status of the remaining cases was unknown.
In an urgent attempt to reduce the spread of the disease, the SA government has announced new social distancing measures.
From midnight, new restrictions will be placed on hospitality venues, gyms and home gatherings.
Density requirements at cafes and restaurants will reduce to one person per 4 square metres indoors, and one person per 2 square metres outdoors.
"The public health and social measures are to give ourselves time," Professor Spurrier said.
"The reason for having some more public health and social measures … is to try and slow down the spread, to try and slow down the number of people who will need to come into hospital."
Home gathering caps will shrink from 30 people to 10 people, while the government has asked South Australians to work from home and reduce travel around the state.
"We are increasingly concerned about the new Omicron variant," SA Premier Steven Marshall said.
"It will overwhelm our health system and seriously undermine our workforce's ability to respond to this Omicron outbreak.
"If we don't take decisive action now, we could see South Australia in the thousands [in terms of daily cases] within the next couple of weeks.
"We're sending a very strong message to all South Australians now: please, reduce your mobility, reduce the number of people you interact with."
Despite that appeal, Adelaide's Rundle Mall was today packed with shoppers, as thousands of bargain hunters today descended upon the popular retail precinct.
In response to the growing caseload, Adelaide Oval authorities this afternoon announced that the venue's capacity would be capped at 25,000, including for the New Year's Eve Big Bash clash between the Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Thunder.Exposure or transmission at dozens of care sites
SA has also scrapped the pre-arrival testing requirement for interstate travellers, but is asking them to undertake a rapid antigen test.
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"We will be removing the need for people coming in from interstate to South Australia to have that PCR test within 72 hours of departure," Mr Marshall said.
Mr Marshall said the priority must now be screening people with symptoms of COVID-19.
"We are going to ask those people travelling back from interstate to make sure that they use one of the rapid antigen tests … on arrival into South Australia," he said.
The Premier also flagged a "narrowing of the definition of close contacts", to ensure testing is targeted at those with symptoms.
On Saturday, a COVID-19 outbreak was revealed at the Bene Italian Village aged care home in St Agnes.
But SA Health said dozens of aged and disability care facilities had been identified as transmission or exposure sites.
"We have 40 aged care facilities where there has been an exposure of a positive case and eight additional sites, there's actually been transmission there," Professor Spurrier said.
"We've got 35 [residents] who are cases and 16 cases who are [aged care staff].
"We've had 32 disability sites which are exposure sites, and then in addition to that we've got four actual sites where there's been transmission and one of those, unfortunately, is a specific site for Aboriginal clients, so that makes it even more concerning for us.
"Overall, we've got 40 either staff or clients in the disability sector who have been cases."
Disability support service Minda has gone "into shutdown" after staff tested positive.
Professor Spurrier said transmission had occurred at four hospitals, with exposure at 21.
The Australian Midwifery and Nursing Federation's SA branch today said unless urgent action was taken, the situation could significantly deteriorate in coming days.
"Given that all their arrangements were predicated on much lower numbers, there is a very real and present risk of the situation worsening in a very short amount of time," CEO Elizabeth Dabars said.
"When the borders were opened, the residential aged care sector actually asked for 100 days of grace before those borders were opened.
"That wasn't possible clearly at the time and what we are seeing here are the consequences of that."
Associate Professor Dabars said calling on interstate staff for support was one option, if such a step were feasible.
"If it comes to that certainly … we would strongly encourage that to occur. The issue that we face is that every other state and territory seems to be confronting issues of its own," she said.
The 774 new cases represent a new daily record caseload in SA, surpassing the 688 recorded on Friday.
"We've got a very significant number of hospitality venues where there have been super-spreading events," Professor Spurrier said.
"When you've got a large number of people together … the virus spreads very easily.
"We've also noted a significant number of gyms where there's been transmission."
More than 20,000 tests were conducted in the state on Saturday.Case numbers nothing 'to do with' reopening, Premier insists
"Well in excess" of 80 per cent of the new cases are Omicron cases, the Premier said.
The SA Opposition said the state's COVID-19 response had been mishandled, and called for compensation for hospitality businesses impacted by extended restrictions.
Shadow Treasurer Stephen Mullighan said South Australians were "doing it far harder now than what they should have been" since border restrictions were repealed on November 23.
"We've had disaster after disaster. We've had vaccination centres which have been closed down and, when that was pointed out to the government, hastily promised to be reopened," he said.
"We've had contact tracing which has been wound down to the extent that they are days — if not weeks — behind in making sure that South Australians know if they've been to an exposure site."
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Mr Mullighan disputed suggestions that the current caseload was unforeseeable and that it was only the result of the Omicron variant.
"Modelling showed that for the Delta variant, the absolute high-range forecast would be at about 100 cases per day," he said.
"What we have seen is that we are already exceeding that — we are well over 100 cases a day of the Delta variant, and then on top of that we've had the Omicron variant registering further hundreds of cases.
"If these restrictions are going to be imposed, Steven Marshall needs to provide compensation for these businesses that are having their livelihoods effectively stripped away. This is meant to be the most profitable time of year for many businesses in the city."
But Mr Marshall hit back, saying border reopening preparations could not possibly have factored in the Omicron variant.
"This is an issue that does not have anything to do with us opening the borders on the 23rd of November," he said.
"[Omicron] wasn't even declared a variant of concern until the 28th of November."UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemicWhat you need to know about coronavirus: