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Australia’s finance and trade minister, Simon Birmingham, says he wishes the brief lockdown in his home state of South Australia had never occurred, but the few days of restrictions were “a damn sight better than a few months”.

Birmingham, who is a Liberal party senator, said the South Australian Liberal government had announced the six-day lockdown last week to quickly “manage what they saw the risk being at the time” and to avoid an extended lockdown as experienced in the state of Victoria.

The federal government has been highly critical of the Victorian Labor government’s handling of the second wave, but has sought to differentiate that from what occurred in SA.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Birmingham said he could “understand the rationale, particularly given that [SA] went from one case to 16 cases to 23 cases in the space of a couple of days, that they had some 5,000-plus people who are now in mandatory isolation as a result of the contact tracing activities”.

Finance and trade minister and Senate leader Simon Birmingham. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

“This instance proved to be false, but this claim that Covid had been contracted again off another touch point, off of a delivered pizza box, was a tipping point for them in terms of the potential number of contact tracing elements that they needed to chase down,” he said.

“So I of course would wish that the short but brief lockdown had never occurred. I wish even more that this guy had told the truth, whatever his motivations may be, but I do understand that a few days of intensive restrictions are certainly a damn sight better than a few months.”

Birmingham disagreed with calls from the NSW Liberal premier, Gladys Berejiklian, to open up a third of her state’s hotel quarantine slots to international students and skilled migrants as a boost to the economy.

While he could understand the viewpoint, and expressed hope of bringing back students as soon as possible, he said “the priority has to remain on returning Australians”.

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