News State Western Australia News Omicron spread prompts urgent push on WA borders

Omicron spread prompts urgent push on WA borders

WA Premier Mark McGowan is poised to reveal later on Monday when his state's borders will reopen. Photo: Getty
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A leading Western Australian epidemiologist wants the state’s border to stay shut as the Omicron variant spreads in the eastern states.

And Premier Mark McGowan has heeded the call.

As the state closes in on 80 per cent of eligible people being fully vaccinated, Mr McGowan announced on Monday afternoon that the state had locked in its plan to reopen borders at 12.01am on Saturday, February 5.

Earlier, University of Western Australia epidemiologist Zoe Hyde said she was “more concerned now that I have been since any time during the pandemic” because so little was known about Omicron.

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University of Western Australia epidemiologist Zoe Hyde says the state’s borders should remain shut.

“It [Omicron] has really thrown a spanner in the works,” she told ABC Radio Perth.

“I really think it would be quite unwise to continue with the plan as is. I think it needs some modification at least.”

WA’s double-dose vaccination rate for residents 12 and over was expected to reach 80 per cent last weekend, triggering Mr McGowan’s announcement.

The state’s borders are closed or heavily restricted to every other state or territory except Tasmania.

It’s anticipated the vaccination rate will have climbed to 90 per cent by the time the borders finally reopen.

Transitional restrictions will then come into effect, including a requirement to wear face masks in high-risk indoor settings such as public transport, hospitals and aged care facilities.

Proof of vaccination will be required to attend large events with crowds of more than 1000 people as well nightclubs and the casino. Entry to remote Indigenous communities will remain restricted and contact registers will still be used.

Should WA fail to reach its 90 per cent target before the borders reopen, further restrictions will be introduced. They could include mandating vaccines for pub and restaurant visits.

On Monday, Dr Hyde said it would be prudent to allow more time to watch how Omicron played out in the eastern states.

“In particular, we need to know how well our vaccines are going to hold up against it,” she said.

Mr McGowan has not ruled out restricting travel between regions should vaccination rates be insufficient outside the metropolitan area.

State and federal leaders were briefed by the chief health officer about the Omicron variant at Friday’s national cabinet meeting and told that while the variant was more transmissible, it was likely to be less severe.

“Everyone should feel confident – that with a very high vaccination rate, sensible public health measures, and a community that’s always done the right thing, Western Australia will be ready to safely transition its border controls,” Mr McGowan said.

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Liz Smith hugs her sister Rebecca after she arrived on the first flight from Sydney into Brisbane on Monday morning. Photo: Getty

Queensland opens up

Back in the country’s east, there have been tears and cheers as tens of thousands of people began arriving in Queensland after the state reopened its border to vaccinated Australians.

More than 140 days after locking out most of the country, Queensland dropped entry and quarantine restrictions at 1am on Monday, sparking emotional scenes at airports and border crossings.

Families and friends embraced in heartwarming reunions as the state threw open the welcome mat for fully vaccinated people after hitting its 80 per cent double jab target.

Queensland Police were also all smiles after a smooth border reopening on the roads with the expected lengthy delays avoided, a trend they hoped continues with 23,500 border pass applications received by 10am on Monday alone.

“I never thought I would see the day where we are opening up with over 80 per cent double dose in Queensland,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

“Today is a happy day, an emotional day for many people.”

Ms Palaszczuk was confident the border would remain open.

“I hope so. The national plan is keep the borders open. We believe the vaccination rates will hold up well,” she said.

Qantas and Jetstar expected to carry 10,000 passengers on flights to and from the state on Monday, with most of the day’s services fully booked.

Overall 43 flights and about 6500 people were expected to arrive in Brisbane alone on Monday amid emotional scenes.

Queensland’s new chief health officer Dr John Gerrard – who started the role on Monday – confirmed the state had one new locally acquired case along with nine in quarantine (seven interstate, two overseas).

He said the local case was identified on the Sunshine Coast, was infectious in the community between December 8-12 and was likely acquired from northern NSW.

-with AAP