Key changes for the Resources and Energy Sector
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall has announced the COVID-Ready Plan for South Australia that will allow a broad range of restrictions to be eased once 80 per cent of South Australians aged 16 and over have received a double dose of an approved vaccine.
From 23 November 2021, when South Australia is forecast to reach that 80 per cent vaccination target, restrictions on cross-border and international travel and activities will begin to be eased. Further relaxation of these restrictions is expected once the State achieves a 90 per cent double dosed vaccination rate for the population aged 12 years or over.
The forecast changes in directions from 23 November are significant for the resources and energy sector as they will provide greater rostering flexibility and reduce cross-border travel administration. While detail regarding the arrangements to apply from 23 November is being finalised, the Department for Energy and Mining anticipates the following key changes for the resources and energy sector:
- Fully vaccinated workers from all States and Territories will be able to enter South Australia at any time, with an exception of some restrictions that will apply to travellers who have been in locations experiencing community transmission and low vaccination rates (such as Local Government Areas (LGAs) with elevated transmission risks).
- A revised one-step online application process will be implemented for all traveller movements, replacing the current essential traveller and exemption application processes. The new portal is expected to come online late in the week of 16 November 2021.
- Fully vaccinated international arrivals will be able to travel to South Australia subject to spending seven days in quarantine on arrival.
- Unvaccinated and single-dose vaccinated travellers will need to apply for an exemption to enter the state, but are not guaranteed exemption. If approved, these travellers might be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine at the traveller’s cost.
Revised cross-border travel process
- Rather than companies submitting applications on their behalf, individual travellers will apply for cross-border travel approval through a new online portal.
- No evidence will be required from employers to support applications (with one potential exception - any circumstance involving essential travel for fully vaccinated workers coming from community transmission/low vaccination zones).
- As the application will automatically assess vaccination status, approval for vaccinated applicants is expected to be instant, with the traveller receiving advice of any conditions that apply at that time.
- It is important that applications are submitted and approval obtained before travel so any conditions of entry are understood.
- Conditions of entry are expected to include
- Obtaining a negative test result within 72 hours prior to arrival
- Conducting a test on arrival and isolation until a negative test is received
- Quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from a location with less than 80 per cent vaccination where there is community transmission
- The requirement to check-in to venues and businesses across South Australia using QR codes
- The requirement to wear masks in accordance with the prevailing directions on public activities
- An exemption application process will be retained for unvaccinated and single-dose vaccinated travellers seeking to enter South Australia. Other than where valid medical reasons exist, there is no assurance that an exemption will be provided.
- Unvaccinated travellers who move to the border without an exemption and organised quarantine arrangement will be turned around at their own cost.
- With minor risk-based exception, it is anticipated that workers who have already arrived in South Australia and are in quarantine on and beyond 23 November will be released from quarantine.
Detail regarding the LGA elevated risk rule, potential exemptions from quarantine for vaccinated specialist workers arriving from elevated risk LGAs, and testing requirements for workers who cross the border on a daily basis as part of their duties (such as working in the Cooper Basin) is being worked through, and the energy and mining sectors will be advised of the outcome in due course.
Test, Trace, Isolate, Quarantine (TTIQ)
Notwithstanding eased travel restrictions, the South Australian government acknowledges the ongoing risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to business continuity across our critical resources and energy sector. In addition to the planning underway at each site, a range of actions are underway to reduce risk and uncertainty for operations across the sector as part of South Australia’s ‘Test, Trace, Isolate, Quarantine’ (TTIQ) strategy.
- South Australia, through significant investment in laboratory capacity and streamlined processes, has enviable COVID test processing timeframes, and this is being boosted by investment in rapid polymerase chain-reaction (Rapid PCR) and Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) testing capacity.
- RAT strategies, in conjunction with confirmatory PCR testing, is expected to make a significant contribution to reducing COVID exposures and maintaining continuity of operations in an increasing COVID-prevalence environment.
- In addition to experience gained through the targeted roll out of RAT in parts of South Australia’s healthcare and commercial freight sectors, BHP and SA Health are currently finalising a trial of RAT at the Adelaide Airport. Completion of this trial will support resolution of strategies for broader distribution of RAT in South Australia as a high-frequency, low-cost ‘sentinel’ testing strategy across all industrial sectors.
- The South Australian government is aware of the impending availability of self-administered RAT in other Australian jurisdictions. During this initial phase of easing border controls, unsupervised ‘DIY’ testing will not be supported. Instead, government will implement public testing programs at border crossings, and work with companies to develop site-specific programs. The current direction on testing prohibits the use of RAT unless authorised by the Chief Public Health Officer.
- I expect to provide further updates on RAT strategies over the coming weeks.
- A close contact is a person who is identified as having spent time in a shared airspace with someone who has COVID-19 such that there is risk of viral transmission having occurred.
- After 23 November, the likelihood of workers becoming exposed to COVID-19 will increase, drawing into focus the speed and success of contact tracing for managing workforce availability.
- In addition to preparations being made within government, SACOME, our sector’s largest employers, and SA Health are working together to train contact tracers within key resources and energy sector businesses. Further opportunities for training are likely to follow this initial tranche.
- High resolution data capture in relation to employee movements, including through the use of QR codes or proximity tracking cards at worksites, will continue to play an important role in supporting contact tracing efforts.
Isolate and Quarantine
- Responding to exposure incidents will be critical to continuity of operations across our economy. It will be the intention to limit quarantining of casual and close contacts. SA Health is currently developing procedures to allow work to continue when a worker tests positive. All positive cases will still need to quarantine.
- While quarantine for individual positive cases and isolation requirements for close contacts will be determined based on specific circumstances, for planning purposes, general rules for quarantine and isolation are:
- If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they will be contacted by SMS or phone.
- That person must immediately self-isolate in their accommodation.
- The positive individual should communicate their positive test result to their employer, anyone with whom they are sharing accommodation, and people they have been in contact with in the two days before they became unwell, (or three days before their test if they had no symptoms) and ask them to get tested and self-isolate. Separate dongas at a site are not regarded as ‘shared’ accommodation.
- Further testing of the positive individual will be coordinated by SA Health.
- Depending on the circumstance, SA Health will engage with the company, including drawing on a company resource to liaise directly with the State Control Centre - Health. Key contacts have already been provided to SA Health for the majority of large South Australian operations – further contacts can be provided to Health.DEMtoHealth@sa.gov.au
- If at a remote worksite, repatriation arrangements for the worker will be resolved in liaison between the company, individual and SA Health.
- Contact tracing will begin on notification of the positive result and identification of close contacts – the relevant company and SA Health will liaise on the approach.
- Companies will initiate their continuity arrangements, which will rest heavily on the flexibility provided by physical and roster separation of crews, the use of PPE, and regular testing.
The primary focus of the TTIQ strategy is identifying individuals at risk of exposure and isolating them to immediately stop the spread of infection. This highlights the significance of ‘close contact’ rules to business continuity across our sector. Revised rules for managing close contacts, with accompanying advice for industry, is being resolved by SA Health and will be forwarded as soon as available.
Of particular note, any operation across the South Australian resources and energy sector with potential connection to remote Aboriginal communities should review mitigations for COVID-19 exposure risk to those communities arising from workers mixing on-site in the impending COVID-prevalent environment
Interstate border restrictions
The South Australian government notes the potential in coming months for heightened border controls with other jurisdictions, such as Western Australia. As with the similar recent challenges faced by employee movements to New South Wales and Victoria, early, open discussion between employers and workers regarding potential challenges and mitigations such as extended rosters and relocations are strongly encouraged to reduce the impact of any border restrictions on the mental health and livelihood of individuals, and on resourcing for businesses across the sector.
The ongoing potential for staffing disruptions associated with future interstate exposure events is also noted including the potential for workers to contract COVID, become close contacts, or be subject to restrictions associated with arriving in South Australia from a Local Government Area with community transmission and vaccination rates below 80 per cent.
In a practical sense, the number of metropolitan area and larger regional centres to which the ‘community transmission/vaccination rated below 80 per cent’ could apply is likely to drop significantly in coming month as vaccination rates continue to increase. The Department for Energy and Mining acknowledges, however, that vaccination rates tend to be lower across regional and remote areas, which has implications both for imported and exported workers, given the broad distribution of the sector’s personnel across the country and the remote location of many operations. Specific consideration of individual circumstances will be taken as required.
The core strategy for reducing the impact of the pandemic to the community and economy remains vaccination, and both government and industry continue to strongly encourage individuals to be fully vaccinated.
Vaccines are now freely and widely available and will continue to be made available through state-run facilities, general practices and pharmacies. Following the success of collaborative programs between SA Health and employers across the sector such as OZ Minerals, Heathgate Resources, BHP and Cavpower, opportunities for future on-site programs (such as potential future booster rollouts) are expected to become available through private providers through the Commonwealth Vaccine Administration Partners Program.
The Department for Energy and Mining and South Australian government look forward to continued collaboration with the resources and energy sector throughout the state’s transition to the COVID-Ready Plan.
I appreciate the desire of companies and workers from across the sector for clarity in advance of the rules that will apply from 23 November, and will provide further advice on matters relevant to the sector as soon as practical.
Department for Energy and Mining
Wednesday 3 November 2021
The information contained in this resources and energy industry update has been verified by the South Australian Government COVID-19 Public Information Function Support Group coordinated by SA Police.
The Department for Energy and Mining acknowledges Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of South Australia. We recognise and respect the cultural connections as the Traditional Owners and occupants of the land and waters of South Australia, and that they continue to make a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the State