Western Australia will tighten health rules as the state reaches a new milestone in its Omicron outbreak while South Australia continues to ease restrictions.
From Saturday, regional WA’s far-north Kimberly region will be subject to level one health restrictions including venue density limits and caps on private gatherings.
The rules will cover the entire state from Monday when they are expanded to the Gascoyne, Mid West and Goldfields-Esperance regions.
The opposite in happening in South Australia where density limits in hospitality venues are being eased from Saturday (more below).
Western Australia recorded 1043 new Omicron cases and 12 people in hospital on Friday, with 3038 active now cases spread across every region of the state.
The state is forecast to have almost half a million cases and 129 deaths over six months.
Also in coming days, police and health workers identified as close contacts will be allowed to continue working if they are asymptomatic.
They must provide daily negative rapid antigen tests.
Premier Mark McGowan on Friday indicated the government was close to rolling out the furloughing policy to other critical workers.
A further tightening of restrictions could soon also be needed given the steep rise in case numbers.
Level two rules would include stricter density limits at hospitality venues and a requirement for children as young as year three to wear face masks at school.
“That’s a discussion we’re now having,” Mr McGowan told reporters.
“I’m not particularly keen on it but unfortunately our case numbers are growing … we have to look at those sorts of measures now.”
Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson earlier warned the virus was likely to have spread further in the community than the case numbers suggested.
He expected the number of people in hospital to grow in coming weeks.
“People are very focused on how many people are in hospital at the moment,” he told ABC radio.
“The reality is, the cases now are forming the basis for us to have hospital cases tomorrow.
“The public health social measures have to be brought in at a certain level because if we let them go too far, from our modelling we’ll end up with far more cases, far more people in hospital and more people in ICU.”
Dr Robertson said the numbers were tracking in line with health department modelling which predicts the outbreak will peak around April at about 10,000 daily cases.
An outbreak in locked-down Bidyadanga, WA’s largest remote Aboriginal community, has grown to 27 cases as a street testing blitz continues.
Ten new cases were found in Bidyadanga, about 180km south of Broome, while a further three were picked up in the nearby community of Beagle Bay.
Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services said health workers aimed to test the entire Bidyadanga community.
It said 90 per cent of residents aged 12 and over were double dosed, with 10 per cent having received a booster.
Anyone who has been there since February 15 is being urged to present for testing.
Six cases have been recorded in the smaller community of Mantamaru, near the borders with South Australia and the Northern Territory.
The state’s third vaccination dose rate is 61 per cent and is on track to reach 70 per cent when the borders reopen on March 3.
SA eases virus rules
South Australia has reduced some COVID-19 restrictions despite a rise in new infections in recent days.
From Saturday, density limits on hospitality venues have been eased to allow them to operate at 50 per cent capacity or one person to every two square metres. Stand-up food and drink consumption is also permitted.
If all patrons are seated, venues can operate at 75 per cent capacity or three people to every four square metres.
Caps on private functions in hospitality venues have been increased to 150 people, with dancing and singing allowed.
However, limits on home gatherings remain at 50 people and the state’s mask mandates for high-risk venues, indoor public places and on public transport, remain unchanged.
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the level of hospitalisations, current infection rates and vaccination numbers were factors in a decision to ease restrictions.
“The main consideration for us is the hospitalisation rates and ensuring that our health system is able to cope with additional cases in the community,” he said.
The number of people in hospital fell from 192 on Wednesday to 112 by Friday.
South Australia reported 1714 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, 1735 on Thursday and 1958 on Wednesday, after the daily case numbers had fallen to 1027 on February 14.
The increases were not unexpected following the recent return of all children to school, the start of the Fringe arts festival and the easing of work from home guidelines.
The state’s seven-day average stands at 1493.
At the peak of the Omicron outbreak, SA recorded 5679 infections on January 14.