The Western Australia (WA) government has backflipped on its strict border closure to grant exemptions for returning international students to enter the state, while Australians from other states are still locked out.
This comes after WA Premier Mark McGowan shelved his plan to reopen the state’s borders on Feb. 5 citing the threat of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, leaving thousands of students and the friends and family of WA residents in limbo, and universities disappointed.
However, the government this week announced the Returning Students Directions (No 2) that says returning students would be allowed to come into Australia and cross into WA from other states provided they are triple vaccinated and self-quarantine for 14 days.
The students are also required get tested for COVID-19 on the first and 12th day of their quarantine as well as download the G2G Now app while in quarantine.
Those who do not comply with any of the directions can face imprisonment for up to 12 months or a fine of up to $40,000 for an individual or $250,000 for a body corporate.
International Education Association of Australia CEO Phil Honeywood said the backflip was “a complete political shambles” and “policy-making on the run,” and that WA’s reputation as a welcoming study destination would “continue to suffer.”
“The victims of these policy backflips are the students as well as education providers who still aren’t certain which of their enrolled students will qualify for a semester one start,” he told News Corp’s The Australian.
Over 30 percent of all international students studying in WA—just under 7,000—remained outside of the country at the end of 2021, The Guardian reported on Jan. 27. It was also revealed that university operating revenues for the sector were down by five percent—or $1.84 billion—to $34.9 billion in 2020.
McGowan last week stressed the importance of getting a third vaccine shot given the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant.
“As the Prime Minister has said, Omicron has changed everything and right now we don’t know the full picture of what Omicron could mean,” he said.
“There is insufficient data to make meaningful assumptions of what it would look like once Omicron takes full effect and case numbers peak over east, except that we know, because of case numbers, it is a very bad situation.”
Travel exemptions will also be granted to returning West Australians, a small class of approved travellers like members of the parliament, and those entering the border on compassionate grounds—for funerals or to see dying relatives.