South Australia has ended the 793-day state of emergency first imposed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state’s Emergency Management Declaration, introduced in March 2020, allowed for widespread measures to limit coronavirus infections, including statewide lockdowns.
It has now been dumped, well ahead of the Labor government’s proposed deadline of June 30.
“This is a historic moment. This is a significant day when it comes to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Premier Peter Malinauskas said on Tuesday.
“It’s a big day, it’s been a long couple of years. But we’ve got through this together as a community.”
Under legislation recently passed by the SA parliament, the government can still impose some restrictions including quarantine requirements for positive cases.
The laws allow for compulsory mask use to continue on public transport and in high-risk settings such as hospitals and aged care homes.
But they do not allow for more significant measures, including lockdowns and widespread mask mandates. In such circumstances, a new emergency declaration would be required.
Mr Malinauskas said dropping the emergency provisions did not mean the pandemic was over.
“COVID is still with us. We still see thousands of cases every day,” he said.
“Management of the pandemic is going to be a balancing act going forward.”
Tuesday’s Emergency Management Council meeting also confirmed the end of mask mandates in high schools.
Secondary students will not be required to wear masks from next week, though they remain strongly recommended for those from years three to 12.
But the mandate will be reimposed where a school reports 10 or more virus cases in a single class or has five classes with five cases or more over a seven-day period.
Mr Malinauskas said the provision to re-impose masks would help limit the number of teachers becoming infected and being forced to isolate.
“When we lose teachers we lose the ability for kids to learn in a more normal environment,” the premier said.
“So we want to protect case numbers among the teacher cohort as best as we possibly can.”
Business SA Chief Executive Martin Haese said the end of the emergency provisions offered business owners the ability to control their operations without fearing a state-imposed rule would shut them down without notice.
“This is excellent news for the business community who are looking for solid leadership out of the global health pandemic that has crippled them for two years now,” he said.
SA reported 3482 new virus infections on Tuesday along with 14 deaths.
There are 232 in hospital with COVID-19, including nine in intensive care.
Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier, who supported the lifting of the emergency ruling, said new modelling on cases in SA had recently been prepared and would be released in coming days.