Some international arrivals to Western Australia will be able to bypass hotel quarantine entirely under a softening of hard border rules.
WA has recorded 75 new local cases over the past four days as Omicron clusters emerge throughout Perth and as far south as Bunbury.
The spike threatens to render the indefinite border closures redundant, with Premier Mark McGowan conceding the state has no chance of eliminating its Omicron wave as it did previous outbreaks.
A broadening of exemptions for entering WA will come into effect from February 5, the date which had previously been flagged for removing border controls.
The list includes people with direct family connections in WA and locals returning from visiting relatives in the eastern states.
Other people who have lived in WA within the past two years will be allowed back if they permanently relocate, as will some students and skilled workers.
All arrivals still face 14 days in quarantine, including those allowed to return for funerals, to undergo urgent medical treatment or to see dying relatives.
Domestic arrivals can self-isolate if they have suitable premises, while direct international arrivals must spend at least a week in hotel quarantine.
But the government has confirmed returned overseas travellers can bypass hotel quarantine if they fly into WA from another state.
The arrangement has been panned by the industry body representing international airlines in Australia.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia estimated there were about 20,000 West Australians overseas, with just 265 currently allowed to return each week through hotel quarantine.
“The recent announcement over home quarantine arrangements via entry into other states … is difficult to understand,” BARA executive director Barry Abrams said on Thursday.
“Why cannot the passengers simply fly direct into Western Australia and then home quarantine? And why have hotel quarantine at all then?”
The premier said WA had to keep its hotel quarantine system operational because once the borders reopened, there would be infected people with nowhere to isolate.
He said the hotels would be needed until at least July or August when the federal government’s Bullsbrook quarantine hub opened.
Mr McGowan insisted his controversial decision to delay reopening the borders would buy valuable time for people to get their boosters.
“Slowing the spread of Omicron, by updating our transition plan and rapidly driving up our third dose vaccination rate, will save scores of lives and give us the best chance to minimise the number of people hospitalised and on a ventilator,” he said on Thursday.
“The lives of older Western Australians matter, as well as the immunocompromised and those with underlying conditions.”