Additional testing and vaccination requirements applied to essential travellers from restricted zones

I acknowledge the current challenges that state and national border arrangements are presenting for operations and workers across the energy and mining sectors.  I want to assure you that the Department for Energy and Mining continues to work across government at the highest levels to clarify and streamline the processes to protect the wellbeing of individuals and companies across South Australia.

Consistent with the state, territory and national focus on exposure risk reduction through vaccination to combat COVID-19, the South Australian government has announced that additional testing and vaccination requirements will be applied to essential travellers coming from restricted zones.

By the end of this week, South Australia’s Cross Border Travel Directions are to be modified to include a requirement for inbound and returning workers from New South Wales, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory to provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken in the previous 72 hours and at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to enter South Australia.

The potential for transitional issues arising from these changes is acknowledged, and short grace periods will be put in place to support the transition to the new requirements. Options are being worked through for providing support to the sector by prioritising access to vaccines.

I recommend that companies advise their workers of the new requirements, and provide urgent advice to Martin.Reid@sa.gov.au of the scale of any significant short-term challenges this may create. Importantly, while these changes to level six restricted jurisdictions will apply to New South Wales, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory, I expect similar requirements would be applied to other jurisdictions in the event of future outbreaks.

On broader cross-border matters, in the past week the South Australian government has invested further resources in the cross-border travel approval process, and I can advise that delays in processing are being actively reduced.

To re-cap my previous advice:

For travel from outside ‘locked down’ zones, the normal Essential Traveller process applies, with employers completing a new template and ensuring COVID management plans and corporate systems include the content in the Risk Mitigation Plan template.
For travel from within ‘locked down’ zones, an application including information (detailed below) to support a risk assessment must be emailed to Health.COVID19RiskMitigation@sa.gov.au, or alternatively, individual applications made by the person travelling can be submitted using an online process. The Department for Energy and Mining will assist in triaging applications made using either method through the process.

It is noteworthy that many of the cross-border circumstances in which workers are seeking exemption to enter South Australia are circumstances in which South Australian residents are unable to freely return to the State. Accordingly, the information provided in support of exemption applications must readily demonstrate that the employer has considered the risk to South Australia that will arise from the proposed travel, that the travel is necessary, and the risk appropriately mitigated.

Some common issues from recent applications for exemption that have caused delays in processing or declined applications are:

  • Information provided against the Risk Mitigation Plan template often reflects generic company information and is not focussed on the risk to South Australia arising from the proposed travel.
  • Insufficient information on the following matters:
    • each of the locations (for example: suburbs/towns) the worker has been exposed to in the previous 14 days, the circumstances where the work will be undertaken (for example: will there be mixing between restricted and unrestricted zone workers on site);
    • what are the connections between the site and South Australian communities;
    • what are the accommodation arrangements),
    • what activities will be undertaken by each worker
    • how the traveller will move through South Australia to the worksite
    • the traveller’s vaccination status
    • what specific mitigations are in place that reduce risk to South Australia from this traveller, and
    • why the travel is unavoidable at this time.
  • Applications made late in the company planning cycle with expectations of immediate approvals once submitted.
  • Applications that are inaccurate, vague, unclear about the site or project to which the application relates, or supported by multiple fragmented and/or very large attachments.

To address the above issues, for those not using the online exemption form (for example: employers submitting multiple employee applications), I recommend the information above is presented in a table, and accompanied by a supporting letter setting out the key facts in a ‘dot point’ format.

Tighter restrictions for travellers arising from the increase in cases across metropolitan and regional Victoria in the past week have highlighted the importance of careful tracking of upcoming travel by companies in key industries. Approved travel for a worker can be compromised by a lock-down in their home location post-approval but before their entry to South Australia, meaning the travel would now require an approved application for exemption.

I appreciate the dynamic challenge that this situation creates, and the Department for Energy and Mining continues to work with SAPOL, SA Health, SACOME and industry to refine a clear, streamlined process that reduces overall risk, regulatory timeframes, company effort, and uncertainty for the sector.

Further to my previous advice, multi-entry essential travel permits held by workers are being progressively cancelled, with the preference for travel from restricted zones to be assessed on merit at the appropriate time. This includes previously issued permits for South Australian workers travelling to interstate sites, including operations in towns such as Broken Hill, Cobar, Orange, and Bendigo.

I appreciate the persistence and professionalism of the sector as governments across the country respond to these difficult circumstances.  I will keep industry updated on any further developments

Stay well,

Paul Heithersay
Chief Executive
Department for Energy and Mining

26th August 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