About 500 people who came into South Australia from NSW and were told they would need to quarantine for 14 days will be allowed to leave isolation immediately after a bungle over the introduction of increased COVID-19 restrictions.
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said following decisions to impose tighter measures from midnight on Sunday, in response to the growing Sydney cluster, wrong information was given to border checkpoints.
That resulted in hundreds who beat the deadline being told they would need to isolate for two weeks.
“This is a very unfortunate set of circumstances, at a very unfortunate time of the year, when people are travelling to spend Christmas with their families,” Mr Stevens told reporters on Monday.
“We apologise for that inconvenience but we would ask that people appreciate this is exceptionally difficult work.
“This is an evolving situation with conditions changing every single day.”
Mr Stevens said about 100 people who arrived at border checkpoints by road and elected to turn back would be contacted individually.
Whether they would now be allowed to come to SA would depend on their individual circumstances.
The commissioner said those who elected to continue into SA and those who arrived by plane on Sunday evening, would likely be released from their quarantine requirements.
But he said they should wait until contacted individually.
They will also still be required to be tested for the virus.
Health Minister Stephen Wade said the government would consider compensation for people inconvenienced or out of pocket by the confusion on a case-by-case basis.
But Mr Wade said SA Health and the police continued to have his full confidence in dealing with the health crisis.
“In a pandemic, things won’t always be neat, things won’t always be tidy,” he said.
“I would much rather them act swiftly and act decisively to protect South Australians rather than wait until they’ve got all the forms finished.”
The confusion on Sunday came as Sydney’s cluster grew to 70 cases and as hundreds of people rushed to beat the midnight deadline.
The rush also prompted long lines for tests at Adelaide Airport, with some forced to wait for hours.
Under SA’s new rules anyone who has been in Sydney’s northern beaches area will not be allowed to enter the state.
The Greater Sydney region, along with the Central Coast and the Wollongong areas have been declared high community transition zones.
People arriving in SA from those areas from Monday will need to quarantine in a suitable location for 14 days and get tested on day one, day five and day 12.
Announcing the changes, Premier Steven Marshall said authorities were aware of the likely impact on Christmas travel plans.
“So we don’t take these decisions lightly,” he said.
“But in this instance, we believe that this is the best way that we can protect South Australia from any seeding into our state.”
South Australia reported no new coronavirus cases on Monday and has only three active infections, all returned travellers who are in hotel quarantine.
Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said if the state continued to have no new cases, it was unlikely any local restrictions would change in the lead-up to Christmas.
Under current arrangements, family gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed on Christmas Day.