Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

South Australia’s largest health bureaucrat has contradicted state expectations and expressed doubts about a plan to scrap COVID-19 quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated interstate travelers before Christmas.

Last week, SA Premier Steven Marshall said he was hopeful that anyone wishing to travel to SA who had been double-vaccinated and had not been to any venues “would be able to come back and enjoy a relatively normal Christmas” .

“I think people this Christmas can look forward to getting people from the interstate to spend time with them,” he said Wednesday.

“People can have some confidence that as we get closer to Christmas, there will be ways for people to come back and that we will also avoid lockdown across the country.”

But SA Health CEO Chris McGowan indicated today that this deadline may be too early.

When asked if he was aware of any health advice suggesting that before December 25, there would be no quarantine requirement “if you come from the interstate”, McGowan replied: “It may have come from someone else, but it has not come from me. “

“Our expectation is when we reach 80 per cent [vaccination] We are starting to relax the boundaries, but in a controlled and careful way, “he said.

“We will, in essence, try to manage the relaxation of borders in such a way that we do not overwhelm the health care system, and that is the most important thing we can do.

“Whether it will or will not require quarantine – in the end probably not, in the short term probably, and I’m not sure where that threshold will change.”

A nine-year-old girl is being held by her mother as she receives the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a clinical trial.
Concern has also been expressed about the low vaccination rate among the youngest qualified cohorts.(Reuters: Shawn Rocco)

McGowan said SA Health had commissioned the Doherty Institute to carry out modeling of South Australia’s likely case load and had identified “the capacity to lay 107 extra beds” across the hospital system in the event of a major outbreak when the borders reopened.

“Decisions to relax borders [are] goes to [mean] mainly to introduce the disease to this condition, and if the disease enters the state and spreads rapidly and we are not ready for it, the stakes are much, much higher, “he said.

“We are currently planning a threshold of up to three to four thousand active cases.

“We expect that about 5 percent of them will be in the hospital, which means we have to cater for about 300 beds in extra capacity at our hospitals, and we are working with the government on how we can do that now.”

‘School-based’ vaccination program in development

Meanwhile, the South Australian health authorities are coming up with a COVID-19 vaccination plan for schools, amid concerns that the state’s jab rates for the youngest qualified cohort are among the worst in the nation.

The opposition is urging the state government to draw up a plan to respond to a coronavirus outbreak in schools and express concern over the seemingly low rates among eligible children.

SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier in an advertising poster.
SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier says a “school-based program” is on the way.(SA Health)

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program opened last month for all children between the ages of 12 and 15.

But the latest federal data shows that less than 27 per cent of South Australian children in that age group have been vaccinated so far – which is the second lowest rate in the nation and only ahead of Tasmania.

Only 3.1 per cent have been fully vaccinated – again the second lowest rate in Australia, ahead of WA and compared to a national rate of just over 9 per cent.

Opposition leader Peter Malinauskas said other states had taken significantly greater steps to reduce the risk of school outbreaks and that SA’s vaccination rates for school children were significant.

“There are a number of things available to the government to do in schools that can help mitigate or minimize the spread of COVID, and these steps are being taken interstate, but we have not yet seen any signs that it is happening in South Australia, he said on Sunday.

“We apparently have none of that in South Australia and now is the time for us to put on our skates to make sure we are not caught left behind.”

But the prime minister defended the current arrangements, saying the current options at schools – which also include mandatory mask tying for high school students – are based on advice from SA Health.

“If there is a need for changes to it – either the removal of the masks or further changes to the way schools work – we will implement it,” Marshall said.

Marshall said 1.8 million doses had so far been administered across South Australians, suggesting a more systematic approach in schools.

“I urge all South Australian parents to encourage their children aged 12 to 15 to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said.

“We’ve talked to schools about how we can make vaccination easier and more accessible to students, and we expect to make more announcements soon.”

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier today committed SA to a “school-based program” targeted at areas where vaccination rates were low regardless of age.

“There has been quite a lot of interest in the young children, the 12 to 15-year-olds,” Professor Spurrier told ABC Radio Adelaides Ali Clarke.

“Playford in particular is an area that we are quite concerned about. If you look at the national figures, the area is particularly low.”

Professor Spurrier said her parents’ permission would be needed, but also said she was eager to see vaccination open to younger age groups.

“I’m really keen that we can vaccinate younger children, but we need to make sure we do it safely,” she said.

“It depends on the peer-reviewed papers being published. We have the first information from Pfizer about the clinical trials for the younger age group.”

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Casey Briggs looks at national vaccination rates

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