Mark McGowan delays WA border reopening indefinitely over Omicron fears

Peter Law and Charlotte EltonThe West Australian
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Premier Mark McGowan makes an announcement about the border reopening and restrictions.
Camera IconPremier Mark McGowan makes an announcement about the border reopening and restrictions. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

Mark McGowan has indefinitely delayed the reopening of WA’s hard border, just 16 days before the State was due to reconnect with the world.

In a night-time address to millions of West Australians watching on television, the Premier said “it would be reckless and irresponsible to open up now”.

Mr McGowan said if quarantine-free travel restarted on February 5 as planned “we will be deliberately seeding thousands upon thousands of COVID cases into WA”.

“And at this point in time that is not what I’m going to do, especially when the science says we need to boost third doses and so many young children still need to get their vaccine,” he said.

“It would be reckless and irresponsible to open up now — I can’t do it.”

When asked by The West Australian, Mr McGowan denied the delay was an admission that almost two years since he shut the border, his Government had failed to get the health system ready for COVID-19.

He insisted the health system was “strong and ready” and instead blaming the emergence of Omicron and saying he wanted WA to avoid the “complete turmoil” seen in the eastern states. The previous reopening plan was based on the Delta variant.

“It is an unforeseen catastrophe and it’s an emergency. Does anyone deny what’s going on over there is not that? People aren’t going to work, hospitals are overflowing, hundreds of people are dying ... we are doing our best to avoid that,” Mr McGowan said.

He said the science showed people with two doses had only a 4 per cent protection against being infected by Omicron, but a third dose could provide a 64 per cent protection against catching the virus.

“In addition, protection against severe disease is maintained at 80 per cent to 90 per cent for people with two doses but increases to 98 per cent for people with three doses. The science proves third doses make a stark difference against Omicron,” he said.

From February 5, expanded exemption criteria will be introduced to permit the following interstate and international arrivals:

- Returning West Australians with strong recent connections or direct legitimate family connections with WA;

- Compassionate grounds including funeral, palliative care or terminally ill visitation;

- Member of the family of an approved traveller;

- People entering for urgent and essential medical treatment;

- Reasons of national and State security; Commonwealth and State officials, Members of Parliament, diplomats;

- Specialist skills not available in WA, health services, emergency service workers;

- People required to attend court matters, judicial officers and staff of court, tribunals and commissions; and

- Special considerations and extraordinary circumstances determined by the State Emergency Co-ordinator or Chief Health Officer.

Interstate arrivals must be triple-dose vaccinated, return a negative pre-departure rapid antigen test and undertake 14 days self-quarantine.

The international arrivals cap will remain at 265 people per week and travellers arriving from overseas must serve seven days hotel quarantine and then seven days home quarantine.

Premier Mark McGowan provides an update on Western Australia's borders in regards to COVID-19 - 20/01/2022
Camera IconPremier Mark McGowan arrives to break the news. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

Mr McGowan gave no indication of when the WA border would fully reopen but said the new border rules would be reviewed “over the course of the next month” and a “range of factors” would be considered before another reopening date was set.

The Premier indicated he would like to see WA reach 80 or 90 per cent triple dose coverage before reopening. Currently, 25.8 per cent of West Australians aged 16 and over have received a third dose.

Opposition Leader Mia Davies said: “This is an admission by the Premier that his health system is not ready. Now that the Premier has indefinitely delayed the re-opening date, there is no excuse for our hospitals to fail when the borders eventually come down.

“West Australians are being told to continue making sacrifices to buy more time for a Government that has clearly squandered the past two years.”

About 6000 interstate and international passengers were due to touch down at Perth Airport on February 5, with up to 80,000 interstate and international passengers expected in the first two weeks.

Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson.
Camera IconChief Health Officer Andy Robertson. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

Chief Health Officer Dr Andy Robertson said keeping the border closed aligned with his health advice. Opening up on February 5 would lead to 500 to 1000 community cases within days, he said.

“Having a double dose ... does protect against serious disease. Unfortunately, what we also found is that it wasn’t protective enough,” he said. “Adding booster doses to that mix really does increase the benefit.”

The new rules allow healthcare workers arriving in WA to isolate at home for seven days. Subject to returning negative tests, they will be allowed to work from the second week.

Once COVID becomes widespread, all elective surgeries will reduce to category one and two for eight weeks.

Mr McGowan again refused to reveal the exact date his Government ordered rapid antigen tests to prepare for the reopening, only saying the order was lodged in the first half of December and 10 million kits would arrive by February 5.

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