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Omicron throws WA border opening into question

written by Hannah Dowling | January 12, 2022

File image of a Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 at Perth Airport. (Rob Finlayson)

The arrival of the Omicron variant in Australia could throw Western Australia’s border reopening plans into jeopardy, as experts warn of outdated health modelling and low vaccination rates in children and indigenous communities.

When the 5 February deadline was set for the reopening of WA’s state and international borders, the state government had relied on health modelling, such as anticipated case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths, based on data from the Delta variant – which is less transmissible than the newest variant, Omicron.

Despite this, WA Premier Mark McGowan has, so far, stuck to the original border reopening date, however he has ordered for updated modelling based on Omicron to be provided to the state government.

It comes after the WA government upgraded every single Australian state and territory to “extreme risk” under its state border restrictions categories, meaning nearly no exemptions will be provided for interstate travellers, and all exempt travellers will need to fully vaccinated, and complete 14 days of hotel quarantine.

Notably, the Australian Medical Association has not recommended that WA push back its reopening plans.

However, the association did recommend that modelling based on the Omicron variant be used in WA to better prepare for realistic outcomes, and to avoid an “unmitigated disaster”.

This modelling is expected to be available “in coming weeks”.

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Meanwhile, two local epidemiologists in Western Australia have flagged that Omicron could catch WA by surprise, and that a delay to the border reopening is required.

Barbara Nattabi, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia’s school of population and global health, said a premature border opening has a “potential for catastrophe” in Western Australia, particularly its more remote regions.

As such, Dr Nattabi told ABC News that the reopening should be pushed back by two months, to allow for increased vaccination rates among Aboriginal people and children.

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“In February, people will be going back to school, people will be coming together in large numbers again and that’s the same time at which the borders will open,” she said.

“It is a potential for catastrophe. So, the ultimate thing is two more months, to catch up all the populations which need their first dose, their second dose and their booster.”

Zoe Hyde, an epidemiologist from UWA, shared a similar insight, stating that the reopening of state borders should be delayed in order to give children under 12 more time to get vaccinated.

“I originally supported the plan to open on the 5th [of February],” Dr Hyde said. “It would have worked if we were still facing Delta, but double-dose vaccination just isn’t enough against the Omicron variant.

“We’ve known for a while [that] you need three doses to complete the primary course of these vaccines, and Omicron’s made that crystal clear. I think getting third doses out to the majority of people is essential before reopening.

“Western Australia would be making a huge mistake opening up with most people only having double-dose vaccination,” she said.

However, tourism operators and small businesses are calling out for the McGowan government to adhere to its 5 February reopening deadline.

Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall said businesses would be significantly impacted if any changes were made to the reopening date.

“Everyone has planned their family reunions, business bookings, recruited staff and ordered supplies, based on the government’s own safe-transition plan,” Hall said.

“That was the purpose of the plan. People need confidence in that date.

“We are recommending businesses take bookings for the fifth, and we’re confident the state government is committed to their own planned opening date.”

Comments (12)

  • Silvia

    says:

    Please don’t open the borders on February 5th. The tourism community don’t seem to understand that once the borders are open and Omricon comes in people in WA will definitely bunker down and not go anywhere and restaurants,bars,cafes etc will be regretting their wishes. Waiting until children are vaccinated and adults have three shots would be wise. It may just need a couple of months more. Please be patient. Short term further pain for long term gain. Silv

    • SEB MACMILLAN

      says:

      You and everybody else thinking like this should STOP!!!!
      WE MUST OPEN! NOW! POSPONIGN THE PROBLEM IS STUPID. WE MUST LIVE WITH COVID. WE MUST LEARN. AND TO LEARN WE ALSO NEED TO DO MISTAKE AND HAVE A BIT OF DRAMA.
      NOT OPENIGN MEANS KEPPING FAMILIES APART, MENTAL HEALTH OF PEOPLE DISTROYED!!!!! FOR WHAT? FOR YOUR ENTORE LAZYNESS TO PREPARE YOURSELF TO IT. IS INSANE AND WRONG.
      WA PEOPLE NEED TO GET ON WITH LIFE!!!!!!!!! YOU SOUND LILE A KID THAT DOES NOT WANT TO DO HOMEWORK AND KEEPO SAYING : ” I WILL DO IT TOMORROW , I WILL DO IT TOMORROW!! NO!!!! YOU DO IT NOW AND SHUT UP!

      • Kat

        says:

        You need to calm down and take those CAP LOCKS off. And check your spelling before posting. Majority of WA clearly want the borders closed. Shouting and stomping your feet just makes YOU look like a child.

  • Concerned Citizen

    says:

    One don’t stick to a date simply because a date was set, especially when so many lives are at risk, chaos looming and the economy so at risk. Say, you plan to swim in a lake by 5 Feb. In Jan, you found out there are crocodiles in the lake, which was unknown earlier. Do you still go ahead and swim, simply because you had set a date to swim?

    WA is like a Garden of Eden, a very rare place in the whole world, AS IF covid did not exist! Why change that? Once you let covid in, it really is a “point of no return”! Would it be blood on someone’s hand???

    Also…for what economic reasons we have to open??? See how covid has ravaged the whole world and our own Eastern states to the point of hospitals not coping, deaths, food shortages, businesses in the brink of collapse with staff shortages due to sickness and close-contacts reasons. What economic reasons??? Or are we just blind?

    Even tourism might flourish for awhile, but once covid is in, they will run out of staff due to infection and close contacts and eventually will have to close again. But for WHAT COST?

    I think the McGowan government should seriously consider the lives affected in terms of covid deaths, businesses shutting, stimulus payments putting our government in deep red, people committing suicides as they can’t pay their rents…etc. But have we not been there before, when covid first hit us and the world? Have we forgotten ? Are we tired of walking around with no masks, no queuing up for tests, no limits to partying..etc??

    I think people should take steps to indicate to our government, that we want the “freedom we have had” for the past 2 years, while the rest of the world is suffering from the ravages of covid.

    Just let the world situation settle and see, before opening the border, maybe in 1-2 years’ time. Because once its opened, it will be too late to regret.

    We should not feel hurried to open.

  • Glenn

    says:

    Many industries rely on eastern state trade including universities. If the border does not open soon, many businesses/companies including universities will have to downsize or even close their doors, therefore the WA employment rate will fall, meaning the state will become a low socio economic State. With this said, the population will migrate to find work elsewhere, therefore the population of WA will decline along with the real estate market and the investment trade – the state will be depressed, does WA want this?

    COVID is hear to stay and we have to build our immunities up to combat the severity of it (just like the common cold). Eastern states are now dealing with the thought that COVID is like the flu, you just have to be healthy and have safe hygiene – sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will blow over is not an option. COVID is here to stay – open the borders and lets get tough and build an immunity against the disease.

  • Rod

    says:

    Unless there is a pressing imperative to vaccinate, people in WA will procrastinate by not getting the vaccination. There hasn’t been any REAL and concerning numbers of COVID to compare with in WA, no community transmission and they’re STILL complaining about it.

    COVID ZERO is a FANTASY driven by a secessionist agenda. Enough is enough.

    There are many people in other states that have been trying to see relatives, children, elderly parents and all that everyone can see is tighter and tighter conditions of entry.

    Not one of the states and territories have less than an EXTREME rating at this time. The average person trying to get a G2G has to have a desperate situation before entry, but MPs and other ‘Dignitaries’ get to just swan in without any issues.

    I have personally had accepted, and then rejected at the last minute 3 G2Gs and have had to cancel bookings twice already. Should I cancel again and try for 2023???

    WA is not East Germany, it is part of a Federation of Australia not exempt from it. If the Feds were to stop the GST drip, WA would very quickly open the borders,

    Unless there is an imminent threat of getting infected with this virus or any variant, people will not vaccinate, as they are too comfortable in the bubble of their own design. They don’t even wear masks as a rule and all the other states have been doing so for a LONG time.

    If the WA Health Dept and the Government can’t organise the beds etc by being prepared, then it’s a failure to plan, leading to the obvious plan to fail. They’ve had plenty of time to do this, WA has seen what has happened in the other states and and what has any of our combined state and Federal Governments done. Had a TALKFEST with no action.

    When is the moat along the border or the big beautiful WALL going to be built?

  • Ian

    says:

    Open up in 1 to 2 years are you off your head??? Obviously has no where to go or no family to see , we have been locked up for two years let’s open up it’s the best chance we have with the omicron variant otherwise we will never get there, please mark McGowan for the sake of sanity and reason OPEN THE HELL UP , WE ARE READY, regards from 90% of the population

    • Penny

      says:

      Regards from the other 10% of WA, we have ALWAYS been ready to be an open and free society and a part (as opposed to apart) of the rest of Australia.

  • John

    says:

    Those saying open up now. If you lose family members and friend to an outbreak will that be fine with you.

    • Nick

      says:

      The world over agrees that Covid is here to stay. WA has had 6 months now to get vaccinated. What’s another 2 months going to do when WA has voluntarily lagged behind other states.

      The response is not proportionate to the risk. Had the death rates of Omicron been what the initial outbreak looked like, there’s no way this would be tolerated, so why the hell should this arrangement continue.

  • Cedric

    says:

    Hi,
    I’m French and I would like to understand.
    Please help me. WA will open the 5th February for all international people with 2 injection of Vaccination?
    I mean WA will open for all international tourist or just working holiday?
    Thank you for helping me because I don’t understand if tourist can travel in WA.

  • Phil Kuek

    says:

    At the very least, let those late-comers who are finally vaccinating because they can’t go to cafes, keep their employment…etc get their boosters! The deadline to have 1st vaccination is end of December 2021, 2nd jab by end of Feb. They can’t have their boosters until 3-4 months after the 2 jab. If time is not given for them to get their boosters, it is these people who will clog up our hospitals! Just wait a few months more and there will be less deaths and hospital beds used up, straining our hospital staff.

    Moreover, without enough RATs, it is harder to get tested. At least make sure we are better prepared this way and other ways, before opening.

    I believe there will be big regrets when we realize the ravages and businesses that closed now with the borders closed, will end up closing again, this time with more businesses affected.

    Maybe when a (or a few) loved one dies of covid or loss of jobs/income to support one’s family, then these “open borders” supporters might change their minds!

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