Mark McGowan has announced Western Australia‘s borders will remain closed indefinitely as opening up would be ‘reckless’, instead bringing a series of huge changes to entry rules.
The premier announced the reopening date of February 5 would be abandoned amid surging Omicron cases and low third dose rates in WA – and offered no alternative for when Australians can finally travel freely in their own country.
He said while the hard border would remain in place the exemption criteria for arrivals would be expanded – especially for compassionate visits.
‘It would be reckless and irresponsible to open up now. I can’t do it,’ he said at an emergency press conference on Thursday night, adding he knew the decision would be unpopular with many.
The state leader said he wanted to see more children vaccinated and more of the population eligible before he ‘introduces Omicron deliberately’ to Western Australia.
Here’s a complete guide to what WA’s amended reopening plan means for you and when, if ever, you can travel west.
Premier Mark McGowan (pictured) has announced his border reopening plan which was due to finally open Western Australia to the rest of Australia and the world will be delayed
WHO CAN ENTER WA FROM FEBRUARY 5?
Mr McGowan said the border will instead reopen in stages with quarantine requirements to remain indefinitely in Western Australia.
Holidays to WA will remain banned for both domestic and international travellers.
Arrivals will be permitted to enter to receive medical treatment, for compassionate reasons as well as those with genuine family links or returning residents.
People entering WA for national or state security reasons, those with specialist skills and government officials are also allowed to enter the state.
Health workers, emergency services workers and family members of an approved traveller are also included in the expanded entry criteria.
Arrivals will have to abide by strict testing and isolation rules with those flying internationally required to do seven days of both hotel and home quarantine (pictured, Perth Airport)
ALL THE CHANGES TO WESTERN AUSTRALIA’S REOPENING PLAN:
Premier Mark McGowan announced the hard border currently in place in WA would remain past the original reopening date scheduled for February 5.
The government has instead opted to reopen the state in stages with quarantine restrictions to remain indefinitely.
Instead, relaxed travel exemptions will be enforced and will allow the following groups to enter the state:
– Returning residents with strong recent connections with WA
– Returning residents with family connections in WA
– Compassionate reasons like funerals, palliative care or terminal illness
– People entering for urgent or essential medical treatment
– People entering WA for national or state security reasons
– People with specialist skills
– Commonwealth and state officials, members of parliament, and diplomats
– Other extraordinary circumstances that have been approved by the Chief Health Officer or Police Commissioner
The state will instead open in stages with a expanded list of exemption criteria (pictured)
WHAT ARE THE TESTING AND QUARANTINE REQUIREMENTS?
Arrivals will have to abide by strict testing and isolation rules with those flying internationally required to do seven days of both hotel and home quarantine.
These include having a G2G pass, being triple-vaccinated if eligible for a third jab, and a return a negative rapid antigen test 24 hours before arriving in the state.
Travellers and their household members will be required to quarantine for 14 days with the arrival to undergo a PCR test within their first 12 hours in WA with both the traveller and their household required to test on day 12.
International travellers will need to get a PCR test on day one, six, nine and 12 with their household members also required to get tested on the twelfth day.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Six weeks ago it was declared WA would restart quarantine-free international and domestic travel on February 5, when 90 per cent of the state is fully-vaccinated.
It was expected about 80,000 interstate and international arrivals would land in Perth Airport in the first two weeks of the reopening.
About 6,000 travellers were expected on the day the borders were due to reopen.
Mr McGowan did not announce a new reopening date instead stating his government would review the border rules throughout February.
He explained this was because of surging Covid cases in the eastern states.
It was expected about 80,000 interstate and international arrivals would land in Perth Airport in the first two weeks of the reopening (pictured, two woman wear masks in Perth)
Mr McGowan said that from 12:01am on February 5 the hard border would remain in place, but with new settings introduced for compassionate visits (pictured, arrivals in Perth)
DOES THIS MEAN WA ISN’T READY FOR COVID?
The premier was asked if the delay was an admission that after two years of planning to reopen his government had not properly prepared the state’s health system.
‘The advice we have is the health system is strong and ready, but the problem is the rollout of the third dose,’ Mr McGowan replied.
‘Watching what has occurred over east and making sure that when it comes to vaccination, we’re as ready as we can possibly be.
‘The aim is to get it up above at least 80 per cent, perhaps 90 per cent, but what we’re going to do is review the situation over February and watch what is occurring over east and work out what the best approach is for Western Australia.’
Mr McGowan said about 35 to 38 per cent of people would be triple-vaxxed by February 5, but did not say what vaccine milestone would trigger the reopening.
The premier claimed hospitalisations in the eastern states had gone up 900 per cent since the arrival of Omicron with 700 deaths recorded in the last 19 days.
He said there was insufficient data to predict where Omicron could take the state and when Covid cases or hospitalisations would peak.
The state leader warned that even those fully-vaccinated were still vulnerable to contracting the virus with booster shots crucial to reducing transmission.
The state’s Covid outbreak continues to grow, reporting five new local Covid cases in a sign the virus is spreading (pictured, pedestrians in Perth on Christmas Day)
‘So far, the science shows that people with only two doses of a Covid vaccine have only a 4 per cent protection against being infected by the Omicron variant.
‘With a third dose it can provide a 64 per cent protection against infection.’
‘So let’s just take a deep breath, acknowledge that it’s very difficult over there, and we’ve got to do our best to avoid that occurring here,’ he said.
The delay comes after major pushback from health officials who said the state’s hospital system was not prepared for borders to reopen.
Australian Medical Association WA President Dr Mark Duncan-Smith was one of these voices, in addition to Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Mark Olson.
Mr McGowan apologised for the delay and said he understood the decision would be unpopular with many, as holiday and reunion plans were ruined once more.
‘For that I am sorry, I understand exactly what the means for many people who had been hoping to reunite without any restrictions, but from February 5 there are enhanced compassionate exemptions.’
Mark McGowan said there was insufficient data to predict when Covid cases and hospitalisations would peak across the state (pictured, staff at a pub in Perth)
The delay comes after major pushback from health officials who said the state’s hospital system was not prepared for borders to reopen (pictured, travellers at Sydney airport)
‘If we proceeded with the original plan, we would be deliberately ceding thousands upon thousands of Covid cases into WA and at this point in time that is not what I am 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.’
ARE THERE ANY COVID CASES IN WA NOW?
The state’s small Covid outbreak continues to grow, reporting five new local Covid cases in a sign the virus is still spreading.
Four of the cases are close contacts, two of whom were in quarantine, with the others potentially infectious in the community.
The source of the final infection is unknown.
Several events in the lead up to February 5 have already been called off, including Perth Festival and the City to Surf, with businesses telling staff to work from home.
As of Thursday, 88.9 per cent of the state’s population over the age of 12 had received two doses while 25.8 aged 16 and over had received a third dose (pictured, people are reunited in Brisbane)
‘So let’s just take a deep breath, acknowledge that it’s very difficult over there, and we’ve got to do our best to avoid that occurring here,’ Mr McGowan said on Thursday evening
From February 5, health workers returning to the state will be required to isolate at home for seven days and permitted to work for days eight to fourteen (pictured, Melbourne Airport)
As of Thursday, 88.9 per cent of the state’s population over the age of 12 had received two doses while 25.8 aged 16 and over had received a third dose.
Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanders announced a series of changes would be enforced if and when cases were widespread across the state.
Elective surgeries will reduce to category one and two for eight weeks, however this policy will not be introduced on February 5.
‘We will hold off on implementing this policy until we really need to in order to allow elective surgeries to continue for as long as possible,’ Ms Sanderson said.
From February 5, health workers returning to the state will be required to isolate at home for seven days and permitted to work for days eight to fourteen.
QUARANTINE AND TESTING REQUIREMENTS FOR ELIGIBLE TRAVELLERS ENTERING WA
Double dose vaccinated international arrivals will be required to:
– While double dose vaccinated international arrivals will not be required to quarantine and are not subject to the arrivals cap, unvaccinated international arrivals will be required to quarantine for 14 days, either in a designated hotel or the future quarantine facility.
– All international travel into WA remains subject to the Commonwealth’s biosecurity and border settings – as that being the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government.
– All domestic arrivals, aged 12 and over, must be double dose vaccinated, unless ineligible or medically exempt.
– All domestic travellers coming into WA will need a G2G Pass
Testing requirements for domestic arrivals fall under three categories:
– Interstate arrivals coming into WA or WA travellers leaving and returning on a trip that is six days or more will require a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure prior to travelling to WA, and undertake a negative PCR test within 48 hours of arrival
– Interstate arrivals coming into WA for five days or less will require a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure but are not required to have any tests on arrival into WA
– WA travellers who leave then return to WA within 5 days or less do not need a test before arriving back into the State, but they will require a PCR test within 48 hours of returning