Rural communities 'positive but cautious' as border restrictions set to lift

Rural communities 'positive but cautious' as border restrictions set to lift

Coronavirus
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Border communities and primary producer representatives are "happy but cautious" about the impending easing of border restrictions for those fully vaccinated, ahead of SA easing border restrictions for those fully vaccinated in a week's time.

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Border communities and primary producer representatives are "happy but cautious" about the impending easing of border restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of November 23, the SA border will be open to fully vaccinated people from all Australian states and territories, but quarantine will apply to those coming from local government areas with community transmission, or areas with less than 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.

Furthermore, fully vaccinated South Australians will need to quarantine for only seven days if they are a close contact of a COVID-19 positive case, while unvaccinated people will need to quarantine for the full 14 days.

Updated testing and quarantine requirements will also reclassify who is defined as a close and casual contact, with fully vaccinated casual contacts only required to isolate until they receive a negative test result.

Restrictions surrounding current density and activity requirements will remain in place, with most activity restrictions set to be lifted when 90pc of the SA population is fully vaccinated.

SA premier Steven Marshall said SA's good vaccination rates have put the state in an "excellent position" to be prepared for COVID-19 cases in the state.

As of 6pm November 16, 85.6pc of eligible South Australians (16 years and above) have been first dose vaccinated, while 74.7pc are fully vaccinated.

"Achieving high vaccination rates is a key part of our strong plan to be COVID-ready and SA's pandemic control going forward," Mr Marshall said.

"Not only will it reduce time in quarantine, it is the best way for people to protect themselves, their loved ones and the community from this nasty disease."

"The message couldn't be stronger - there has never been an easier time for South Australians to roll up their sleeve and get vaccinated, with thousands of walk-ins and appointments available at one of the many vaccination clinics, GPs or pharmacies across the state."

Health and Wellbeing Minister Stephen Wade said the excellent vaccination rates meant large quarantining requirements would no longer be required.

"During the height of the Modbury cluster, around 29,000 South Australians were forced into 14 days quarantine, but thanks to the many South Australians rolling up to get vaccinated we will no longer need to quarantine such large groups of people in similar circumstances," he said.

"There have never been more reasons to roll-up and get vaccinated. Every dose gets us closer to fully vaccinating our community aged 12 and over, which means we can further ease restrictions and have less reliance on other public health control measures going forward."

Despite the easing of restrictions, Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said testing, tracing, quarantining and isolation requirements would still be important.

"Our contact tracing team are 'match-ready' to carry out their vital work with contact tracing and outbreak control as we know this is a key preventative measure to limit infections, illness and the impact on our health care system," Professor Spurrier said.

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"The team will continue to get in touch with all individuals who have come into contact with a case to inform them if they are a close or casual contact and what is expected of them."

In response to Stock Journal questions, a statement from SA Health confirmed all hospitals across the public health system would be ready to treat and care for COVID-19 positive patients in their local communities, as part of our transition to living with COVID-19.

"As part of our COVID-19 response, we have plans and processes in place to manage COVID-19 patients in regional and remote areas, and patient health and safety is always our first priority," the statement said.

"The vast majority of COVID-positive people will be treated in the home via virtual care, if needed, with only the more vulnerable cases - approximately 10 per cent of cases - requiring care in a quarantine facility. We expect only five per cent of cases will require hospitalisation.

"Acutely unwell COVID-positive patients in regional areas will continue to be transferred to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for treatment as per existing healthcare processes."

While there is a certain air of uncertainty going forward as restrictions lift, those living in border communities are thinking the change is a "positive step", according to local mayors.

Naracoorte Lucindale Council mayor Erika Vickery said the community was looking forward to having increased levels of freedom moving forward, for both personal and economic reasons.

"People are all still feeling a bit cautious about it, but on the whole we have been extremely compliant (with abiding by restrictions), and now people are just looking for that freedom of movement, that's been indicated by vaccination levels that have been very good in our border communities," Ms Vickery said.

There are a lot of interactions that usually go further than that (bubble), so having that open now is what people are looking for. - ERIKA VICKERY

"Many people in the community are feeling saddened that they haven't been able to see friends and family members for quite a long time.

"Businesses are looking forward to having a more normal time going forward, we'll still have some restrictions which have been announced and are still being explained, but we're hoping that it will all work reasonably well for the community in general."

Ms Vickery said the border restrictions lifting was a significant improvement from the 70-kilometre cross border bubble currently in place.

"There are a lot of interactions that usually go further than that (bubble), so having that open now is what people are looking for," she said.

The tourism industry is also likely to benefit from SA opening up, according to Ms Vickery.

"Even with border restrictions, we've had fantastic visitation figures thanks to visitors from within the state, but we're hoping that being so close to the border, interstate visitors will enhance our figures as well."

Southern Mallee District Council Mayor Jeff Nickolls doesn't expect life to change much in the region as restrictions start to lift, but it would be advantageous from a mental health perspective.

"In our border areas, from a mental health point of view it's going to be a huge benefit, because it has been so frustrating up until now," he said.

"Like anyone anywhere, we're a bit nervous, but if you've done the right thing and you're double vaccinated, you can know that you'll be able to be at a location on a certain date, even if it's across the border," he said.

Mr Nickolls said the restrictions lifting may help with worker and labour shortages.

"It'll be helpful for those (potential workers) who until now have been stuck either side of the border. It'll make things easier, there is an opening now to plan towards more work, where before there was a brick wall," he said.

It is clear we all need to prepare for living with COVID-19 in the longer term and this includes keeping restrictions in place at some level, to ensure rural health services can keep up with the likely spread in the community after borders open. - SIMON MADDOCKS

Primary Producers SA chair Simon Maddocks said an increase in cross-border movements would be beneficial for rural communities.

"The agricultural sector relies on cross-border movements of people, goods and services and PPSA welcomes the transition to greater freedoms, made based on expert health advice and modelling," Professor Maddocks said.

"It is clear we all need to prepare for living with COVID-19 in the longer term and this includes keeping restrictions in place at some level, to ensure rural health services can keep up with the likely spread in the community after borders open."

Professor Maddocks said PPSA would continue working with the state government to best navigate through the changing restrictions going forward.

"SA's primary producers need clear guidelines and rules to allow the sector to operate with confidence, to avoid uncertainty and costly delays in going about the business of farming under changing restrictions," he said.

"PPSA's job is to coordinate this advice to SA government, working with our commodity members to identify barriers which may arise in day-to-day operations and overcome these wherever possible.

"This has been the case throughout the pandemic and the transition plan should be no different."

Further information on SA's response to COVID-19, including the roadmap looking ahead, can be found here.

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