Major Emergency Declaration for COVID canned

24 May 2022

The Major Emergency Declaration in South Australia for COVID-19 ended on Tuesday after 793 days, in what Premier Peter Malinauskas called “an historic and significant moment for our state”.

The Premier and Health Minister Chris Picton joined the State Co-ordinator Grant Stevens in advising the Governor at Government House today, following this morning’s Emergency Management Council meeting.

The lifting of the declaration is only possible following the successful passage of the Government’s legislation to amend the Public Health Act in Parliament last week.

New public health laws will enforce COVID isolation, vaccination mandates and mask use in high-risk settings such as hospitals, health care facilities and nursing homes. However, any new restrictions such as lockdowns or mask mandates will need a new emergency declaration.

The State Co-ordinator declared a Major Emergency on March 22, 2020, as the COVID-19 outbreak first emerged in South Australia.

The declaration gave the State Co-ordinator extraordinary powers to issue directions such as lockdowns, capacity restrictions and quarantine orders as the state sought to contain the spread of the virus.

The declaration has been in place for 793 days, and has been extended 28 times with 289 legal directions issued.

Under the amendments to the Public Health Act, responsibility for COVID directions will transfer from the State Co-ordinator to the Cabinet. The Emergency Management Council, a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by the Premier and including the Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier, will continue to meet every two weeks.

Importantly, the amendments to the Public Health Act only permit the easing of restrictions when safe to do so, not the imposition of new restrictions such as lockdowns.

The Emergency Management Council also resolved to lift the requirement for masks in schools from next week. Masks will now be strongly recommended, but not required, for all adults, including visitors, and students in years 3 to 12.

Masks will only be required at a school in circumstances where one class reports 10 or more cases over 7 days or one school has five classes with five cases or more over 7 days.

The State Government says it has undertaken a number of measures to reduce the risk in schools, including deploying an additional 1,195 air purifiers to schools across the state. Natural ventilation improvements have been completed at 50 per cent of schools, with 75 per cent completed by the end of May and all completed by the end of June. 

The school vaccination program begins this Friday, with hubs at 40 schools targeting children aged 5-11.

“Today’s lifting of the Major Emergency Declaration would not have been possible without the hard work and sacrifice of South Australians over the past two years,’’ said Mr Malinaskas, who had vowed to end the state emergency by June 30.

“On behalf of the people of South Australia, I want to thank Grant Stevens for his extraordinary service as State Co-ordinator since March 2020. 

“Without question, the Commissioner Stevens’ effort has been one of the highest quality displays of leadership in our state’s history.

“South Australians are still alive today because of the work of Grant Stevens and Nicola Spurrier.’’

However, the Premier cautioned: “We must remember that the lifting of the Major Emergency Declaration does not mean the pandemic is over. 

“We cannot be complacent. We must maintain vigilance to protect our community – that means getting vaccinated, wearing masks where required, getting tested if unwell, and quarantining while COVID positive.’’