Australians have erupted with fury after WA Premier Mark McGowan announced a shocking, last-minute border backflip.
Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan is under fire after announcing it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to reopen his state next month as planned.
The state’s hard border was set to lift on February 5, but in a press conference late on Thursday night, Mr McGowan said the Covid Omicron variant – which was now wreaking havoc across the nation – had changed everything.
He said that given just 25 per cent of WA residents have had their third Covid vaccine dose so far, he wanted to avoid the rising fatalities seen in NSW and Victoria. WA has only recorded one Covid death during the entire pandemic.
“NSW is sadly recording 25 Covid deaths a day,” the Premier said. “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.”
A new reopening date has not yet been confirmed, but Mr McGowan said travel exemption rules would be relaxed from February 5.
“So from 12.01am on Saturday, February 5, the hard border will stay, with new settings that will have a focus on both safety and compassion,” he said.
But the announcement has sparked immediate backlash, with Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Dr Omar Khorshid, who is based in Perth, slamming the move on Twitter, calling the Premier a “one trick pony” while also admitting: “Many of us both shocked/disappointed and relieved at the same time.”
“No doubt public hospitals and general practice in WA do NOT feel ready for Omicron but also little confidence that anything will change in coming weeks and months,” he continued in a lengthy Twitter thread.
“Was hoping for more courage from a Premier with an unprecedented parliamentary majority. This decision should be acknowledged as a failure by the WA govt to prepare and a broken promise.”
He also shared some “unsolicited advice” for the Premier, urging him to use this time “wisely” to prepare, to acknowledge that vaccines were “not enough” and public health measures “critical”.
“We need RATs almost everywhere,” he continued.
“Don’t wait ’til winter – the elderly and sick are at risk and their immunity may be waning.”
He said the double-vaxxed currently waiting for their booster were “very low risk” and pushed Mr McGowan to set a date and “stick to it”, instead of setting another vaccination target – and to “protect schools as best you can”.
“And lastly … don’t pretend that the more ‘compassionate’ border arrangements are a major move,” Dr Khorshid said.
“They’re long overdue but the hard border continues to harm many people and needs to come down as soon as we are ready.
“Omicron is here already and it will cause a significant outbreak in WA soon enough. Sticking our head in the sand won’t make it go away. Let’s prepare!”
Defence Minister Peter Dutton told Sunrise on Friday morning that there would be many Western Australians who were “disappointed” today, “because they have been separated from their families for a long period of time”.
“Their voices I think will be heard today, and Mr McGowan will have to explain to them the reasons for his decision, and I understand that great sense of disappointment,” he said.
Mr Dutton also called for more certainty for citizens.
“I think as Western Australians have pointed out, if not now, then when? The Premier has outlined some of the plan, and no doubt he will have more to say today,” he said.
“When people have been working [towards a] timeline that has been announced by the Premier, you can understand why Western Australians would have a view that they do.
“I think there will be a lot of that sentiment coming out today.”
Blogger Susie O’Brien told the program it was a “damning indictment of his leadership” and an “absurd and heartbreaking” move for the people of WA, while 7 News broadcaster Ben Davis labelled it “insular and self-centred”.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also slammed the announcement on Sunrise, saying WA residents would be “disappointed” and would be asking, “If not now, when?”
He also distanced the Federal Government, insisting it was a state issue.
Host David Koch then asked what the new reopening date might be, given Mr McGowan said he was aiming to reopen once between 80 and 90 per cent of the population had received their booster – a milestone which could be “months and months” away.
“The Omicron variant is a new phase in the pandemic, a pandemic that is nearly two years long, and there are changes in the way that we respond and obviously the number of cases has increased with transmissibility but it’s also less severe, so of course we want to see Australia united, will continue to support the Western Australia economy and the Western Australia people but we do understand the need to live with the virus in a Covid-19 safe way,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“Western Australians have not seen the extended lockdowns that were seen in the southern states like NSW and Victoria. So the matter is quite a different experience.
“The virus is expected to be around for some time to come so it’s about getting back to normalised settings and understanding that you have health precautions that are in place like mask wearing or social distancing, and you are rolling out the PCR and the RAT tests. More broadly the key here is that we need to learn to live with the virus because the virus could be with us for some time to come.”