West Australians are expected to learn within a fortnight when the state’s borders will finally reopen as the door opens for some international students to immediately return.
Premier Mark McGowan on Tuesday said an announcement on easing the border restrictions would be made “sometime in February”, while revealing there were 48 new local Omicron infections.
The state had been due to fully reopen on February 5 before the Premier backtracked, citing high rates of Omicron-related hospitalisations and deaths on the eastern states, as well as the need to improve WA’s third-dose vaccination rate.
WA’s booster rate has since doubled to about 52 per cent and is on course to surpass 80 per cent some time next month.
“By the time we reopen the interstate and international borders, we’ll be one of the highest vaccinated places in the world with one of the safest populations in the world, which is a great thing,” Mr McGowan said.
The state government earlier this month softened its hard border rules, allowing more people to reunite with families.
About 30,000 people have since returned to WA to undertake seven days’ quarantine, with hundreds testing positive during that time.
The Premier said the safe management of those travellers had vindicated his government’s decision to avoid removing all border restrictions at once.
But opposition health spokeswoman Libby Mettam said it was extraordinary there was still no certainty regarding the reopening date.
“After closing the borders, flattening the curve and buying that much-needed time to prepare an already ailing health system for the inevitable, where are we today?” she asked parliament.
“Almost 700 days later and still closed to the rest of the world.”
The Premier on Tuesday also announced a new pathway for international students to immediately return to WA subject to undertaking seven days’ quarantine.
Entry will be restricted to students already enrolled in a WA primary or secondary school, university, college, technical college or further education course.
About 6000 international students are expected to return in coming weeks under the new policy.
The government had faced criticism earlier this month after students were given just days to arrive back into Australia to be deemed eligible for entry to WA.
BHP chief executive Mike Henry on Tuesday praised the government’s handling of the pandemic but said it was time for the borders to reopen.
The mining giant had an outbreak connected to its Yandi mine in the Pilbara earlier this month.
Qantas, meanwhile, announced a further delay to the resumption of its direct flights between Perth and London amid the border uncertainty.
The airline said it would continue to instead use Darwin as the departure point until at least June.
WA also recorded 14 travel-related cases on Tuesday, taking the active case tally to 471 with no one currently in hospital.
About 30 cases have so far been linked to outbreaks at three aged-care homes across Perth.