Western Australia will reopen its borders from March 3, bringing to an end almost 700 days of seclusion as the state’s Omicron outbreak continues to grow.
Premier Mark McGowan says WA is well-placed to handle the resumption of quarantine-free travel given the state’s high vaccination rates.
He acknowledged on Friday there was no prospect of stopping an outbreak which now numbers 794 active cases.
“Eventually there comes a point where the border is ineffective when you get to high case numbers within the state,” Mr McGowan told reporters.
“It’s plain to see that four weeks of caution has paid dividends. It means it is now far safer to relax our hard border settings.”
Once the borders reopen, interstate travellers who are fully-vaccinated – including a third dose if eligible – will be able to travel to WA without quarantining.
Unvaccinated interstate travellers will remain locked out.
All international travellers will be allowed back in, but those who are unvaccinated must serve two weeks in hotel quarantine, with the number of unvaccinated overseas arrivals limited to 70 per week.
No going back
Mr McGowan insisted there was no prospect he would again backflip on the reopening.
“This date is locked in and I can’t foresee a situation where it would change. It’s only 12 days away so it’s a lot closer than last time,” he said.
Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said modelling suggested the WA caseload would peak at the end of March at around 10,000 daily infections.
WA is expected to reach “peak immunity” in March, but four lives are expected to be lost each day once the peak is reached.
The announcement came as WA recorded 194 local cases and eight travel-related infections on Friday. The state has reported 486 local cases in the past three days.
Just over four weeks have passed since the Premier announced an indefinite delay to the planned February 5 reopening.
At the time, the state had 79 active cases and a third-dose vaccination rate of 26 per cent.
More than 55 per cent of eligible West Australians have now received their booster, while the vaccination rate for children aged 5 to 11 has tripled to 45 per cent.
Mr McGowan said the number of cases in the eastern states on Friday was just over a third of the more than 75,000 cases recorded on January 20.
He said hospitalisations had roughly halved during the same period, justifying his controversial decision to delay the border reopening.
“I firmly believe saving West Australian lives has been worth every effort over the past two years,” he said.
Tougher public health measures
The state will introduce tougher public health measures from Monday including extending the wearing of masks at indoor venues across the state.
“Level one” measures will come into effect in Perth, Peel, the South West, Great Southern and Pilbara regions, including a one person per two square metres rule at hospitality and entertainment venues, gyms, beauty services and places of worship.
Home gatherings will be limited to 30 people and private outdoor events in non-home settings to 200 people.
Visitor limits will also come into effect at hospitals and aged care venues, but people will not be required to work from home.