Western Australia will reopen its borders to the rest of the world on February 5, almost two years after COVID-19 turned the state into an "island within an island". The long-awaited announcement by WA Premier Mark McGowan came as the state's double-dose vaccination rate for those aged 12 and over reached 80 per cent. At a media conference in Perth, he said WA's hard border would drop at 12:01am on Saturday, February 5. The state government hopes 90 per cent of the state's population aged 12 and over will be vaccinated by then.
WA Health Minister Roger Cook said the state's COVID-free bubble was "about to burst". "Since November 5, New South Wales and Victoria have experienced more than 53,000 positive cases and 220 deaths," he said. "Western Australians are going to be in for a real shock from February 5. But we have been preparing for [COVID-19's] inevitable arrival." As of Monday, WA was closed to all states and territories except Tasmania.
Rules set for travellers
Once the state reopens, interstate travellers will need to provide proof of full vaccination, and if their trip into WA is for six days or more, they must return a negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel and undertake another test within 48 hours of arrival. If the trip to WA is for five days or less, travellers will not need to undertake any tests on arrival. If people are leaving WA and returning within five days or less, they will not need to take a test before returning, but they will need a PCR test within 48 hours of arriving back in WA.
This will apply to anyone aged 12 and over unless they are ineligible or have a medical exemption. The government said WA's G2G pass system would continue for the time being. International travellers will not need to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated but will need to test negative for the virus before departure and on arrival and on day six. Unvaccinated international travellers will still need to quarantine in a state-run facility for two weeks.
Mr McGowan said the date was locked in to give West Australians and businesses certainty. "This is a date that some in the community have been waiting to hear for a long time," he said. "Many have family abroad that they have been unable to see for nearly two years. I am sure this date will be a cause of relief and celebration. "For others, this is an announcement that will cause great concern. They or their loved ones might be immunocompromised. Some will be worried about their children or their older parents."
Mr McGowan said the first-dose vaccination rate for the eligible population stood at 89.1 per cent. "We have followed the health advice. But with a vaccination rate of 90 per cent and reasonable public health measures, the health advice is clear — we can safely ease our border controls and reconnect WA," he said. "I am confident that this is the right time and the right way to take this important step. "Western Australia's current zero-COVID environment and high vaccination rate will help deliver the softest landing to minimise the impact of the virus when it enters our state and to keep Western Australians safe for the long-term."
Proof of vaccination, masks needed in certain settings
Mr McGowan said some restrictions would need to be reintroduced, with extra restrictions for regions with low vaccination rates. Proof of vaccination will be required for entry at nightclubs, the casino, WA's four major sporting stadiums and at events with 1,000 or more patrons. Vaccination proof will be required for people aged 16 and over.
"Other businesses may also choose to have proof of vaccination requirements as a condition of entry if they wish. Businesses should consider their individual circumstances and seek their own legal advice," Mr McGowan said. "At this point, mask-wearing will only be required for public transport, taxis and ride-share services, airports and on flights, visitors to hospitals, residential aged care, residential disability care, and custodial corrections facilities.
"In addition, there will still be restrictions on entry to certain remote communities. "In the event that they need to be stepped up, we will do so based on health advice and hospitalisation rates at the time."
Tougher restrictions for some regions
Mr McGowan said some parts of WA with "dramatically lower vaccination rates" would need stronger restrictions. "At present, the Pilbara, the Goldfields, and the Kimberley have lower vaccination rates than the rest of the state," he said. "The Pilbara have a double-dose vaccination rate of 46.1 per cent, the Kimberley is at 60.8 per cent and the Goldfields at 65 per cent. "If those regions do not reach at least 80 per cent by February 5, they will be subject to enhanced public health measures."
"We do not want to impose these restrictions if we do not have to," Mr McGowan said. "There is time to get their two doses and protest themselves and their communities. "We need another 12,000 unvaccinated people in the Pilbara to roll up to meet an 80 per cent double dose target. We are most concerned about the Pilbara."
Booster shots urged
Mr McGowan also urged West Australians to get their booster shots as soon as they were eligible. "As of today over 212,000 West Australians are eligible for a third dose, but only 15 per cent have received one so far," he said. "With Omicron, it is so essential to get your third dose." Mr McGowan said advice and details about what people should do if they, or someone in their household, tested positive would be released ahead of February 5.
"Western Australians can be confident that with high levels of vaccination across the community, testing and vaccination requirements for arrivals, and reasonable public health measures — [and] we have invested significantly in our health system to ensure our hospitals are ready — we will be in the best possible situation to reconnect with the world," he said.
Mr Cook said the state government had recruited hundreds of additional health staff and invested in hundreds of extra hospital beds. He said the vaccination rate of the state's Indigenous population remained a concern, with a double-dose vaccination rate of around 40 per cent. "We need to make every day count for our Aboriginal population," he said.
Date locked in 'barring unforeseen emergency'
Mr McGowan said he was confident the state would reach 90 per cent double vaccination by February 5, based on current health advice. He said he was very confident Omicron would not delay the reopening.
"This date is locked in barring some unforeseen emergency or catastrophe which we cannot predict," he said. "It is a very safe bet that on February 5, this transition will occur."
Courtesy of ABC News