South Australia will resume repatriation flights as Victoria prepares for new ‘COVID normal’

South Australia will resume accepting returned Australians on international flights from next week after arrivals were suspended because of a cluster of COVID-19 cases.

The so-called Parafield cluster was sparked when a worker at one of Adelaide’s quarantine hotels picked up the virus from someone who had returned from Britain.

It prompted a major revamp of SA’s quarantine hotel system including a move to test all staff, including security guards, on a weekly basis.

The government put flights on hold for several weeks as it reinstated a range of restrictions and embarked on widespread contact tracing to bring the cluster under control.

Premier Steven Marshall said flights were clear to resume from next week but schedules were yet to be determined.

“We are ready to take incoming flights from next week,” he told reporters on Saturday.

“They could occur from Monday but those schedules haven’t been determined yet.”

Any returned travellers found to be COVID-19 positive will be moved from hotel quarantine to a dedicated medical facility.

Mr Marshall said plans were underway to establish an interim facility ahead of finalising a more permanent location.

SA Health reported no new virus cases for the seventh day in a row on Saturday leaving the Parafield cluster at 33 with only seven of those considered active infections.

About 230 people considered close contacts remain in isolation but that number is down from a peak of almost 6000.

The run of virus-free days is giving officials more confidence the Parafield cluster has been contained and Mr Marshall said it was hoped states that introduced border restrictions because of the outbreak would soon ease those measures.

“We are still waiting to hear what will happen next week with Queensland and we are hopeful we can reach an agreement with Western Australia,” he said.

Victoria set to ease restrictions further

Meanwhile Victoria, which has been free of locally transmitted coronavirus cases for more than a month, is set to announce a change to mask rules and increased social gathering caps on Sunday.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has indicated it will be safe for the state to move to a “COVID normal” level of restrictions.

Under the government’s original roadmap out of lockdown, “COVID normal” signifies a final easing of attendance restrictions on community sport, hospitality venues, gatherings and visitors to the home.

Professor Sutton said authorities were still working through details ahead of Premier Daniel Andrew’s Sunday press conference but confirmed advice around masks, which currently must be worn in indoor settings, will change.

“We will move to a phase where there is an even more limited use of masks in public,” he told the parliament’s public accounts and estimates committee on Friday.

“But the recommendation for mask-wearing still exists around Australia, even in places where it hasn’t been mandated at all.”

Hospitality and entertainment venues are expected to continue record-keeping of patrons, as will the real estate industry, as part of what the government often also calls a “COVID safe summer”.

A phased return to onsite work will continue, with all workplaces required to use a COVID safe plan.

Wedding, funerals and religious gatherings will be allowed to go ahead with bigger attendances.

It is unclear what the various attendance caps will be, if any, as the Department of Health and Human Services’ original roadmap document simply states restrictions will be “in line with public health advice”.

Victoria recorded its 36th consecutive day on Saturday of no new virus cases.

The impressive zero-case run is about to be put to the test as international arrivals, initially capped at 160 per day, resume.

Five international flights from Colombo, Doha, Hong Kong and Singapore are scheduled to arrive at Melbourne Airport on Monday, marking the start of the state’s revamped hotel quarantine program.

International flights were diverted from Victoria in June after security guards at two quarantine hotels contracted COVID-19.

The outbreaks sparked the state’s second wave, which resulted in more than 18,000 infections and 800 deaths.

The government announced on Friday it will introduce legislation to charge for the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The fees will be set at $3000 per adult, $1000 for each additional adult in a room and $500 for children aged between three and 18 years. There will be no charge for children under three.

The government has said the payments put Victoria in line with other states and territories but that there will also be hardship considerations including fee waivers, reductions and payment plan options.

There will be no security guards involved in the new-look program, with all staff employed or directly contracted by the government with the exception of cleaning staff, who are on fixed-term contracts with Alfred Health.

Hundreds of Victoria Police officers will act as security as well as undertake floor monitoring in “health hotels”, which will house those travellers who test positive to COVID-19.

Australian Defence Force personnel will support Victoria Police by helping guests on entry and exit, as well as registering staff movements and conducting temperature checks. Some ADF members have arrived at their post already, with more to come next week.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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