Western Australia (WA) Premier Mark McGowan has unveiled the state will remain shut off from the rest of Australia due to the inefficacy of double-dose vaccination against the Omicron variant of the CCP virus and rising cases in the eastern states.
An estimated 80,000 individuals had planned to travel to WA in the first two weeks of the reopening.
“It would be irresponsible and reckless for the state government to ignore the facts and ignore the reality of the situation playing out on the east coast.”
While Omicron is less severe than the Delta variant, it is significantly more transmissible, and has resulted in New South Wales and Victoria recording thousands of hospitalisations a day since the start of the year.
“It will cripple our community like it’s doing on the east coast currently. The eastern states’ experience has not been our experience. West Australians are resilient … We’ve had very few infections and few hospitalisations,” McGowan said.
WA had initially planned to ease interstate travel restrictions from Feb. 5 for the vaccinated after 90 percent of the state’s 12 and over population received two doses of a vaccine. But the reopening has now been suspended indefinitely pending further review in February.
Feb. 5 will instead see travel exemptions into WA broadened to allow returning West Australians and those seeking to attend funerals, palliative care, or on other compassionate grounds.
McGowan indicated that the review would reassess the levels of third dose vaccination amongst 16-and-overs, which currently sits at around 26 percent, and that while a specific target had not been set, the aim was to get third dose rates “up above 80 percent, perhaps 90 percent.”
“The science shows that people with only two doses of a COVID vaccine have only a 4 percent protection against being infected by the Omicron variant, with a third dose it can provide a 64 percent protection against infection,” McGowan said.
“In addition, protection against severe disease is maintained at 80 to 90 percent for people with two doses, but increases to 98% for people with three doses … Third doses are our answer in the fight against the Omicron variant.”
However, McGowan did not rule out the possibility of delaying the reopening once again if a similar scenario played out in the future.
“What I’ve learned is nothing is certain with COVID.”
Criticism has also been directed at the WA government over the readiness of the public health care system which, despite two years of preparatory time, are still unprepared to handle a rise in cases.
Reports have outlined instances of a severe staff shortage crisis, exacerbated by vaccination mandates that have seen hundreds of health staff unable to work.
However, this point was disputed by WA Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson.
“Our hospital system is ready … we’ve been preparing our system to open for the 5th of February,” Robertson said.
The WA government has estimated 1,200 graduate nurses will be employed in its public health sector in 2022 and has recently spent $2 million on state, national, and international advertising campaigns to help draw in additional staff.