Western Australia has canceled plans to reopen its interstate borders due to the proliferation of the Omicron variant.
Australia will remain a divided nation with the sprawling mining state of Western Australia canceling plans to reopen its borders on February 5, citing health risks from a boom in the Omicron coronavirus variant in eastern states.
Australia’s most populous state New South Wales (NSW) reported its deadliest day of the pandemic on Friday
NSW reported 46 deaths of patients with COVID-19, including one baby, while the state of Victoria lost 20 lives. Yet a decline in hospitalizations in both states has given hope that the latest outbreak has reached a peak.
All states and territories except Western Australia (WA) have reopened their internal borders under a policy to live with COVID-19, despite a record surge in cases. Western Australia would follow suit next month.
However, Western Australia’s Prime Minister Mark McGowan made a shock announcement late on Thursday, saying it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to open, given the rapid spread of Omicron.
Instead, reopening would be delayed indefinitely, or at least until the percentage of triple dose vaccinations reached 80 percent. It is currently about 26 percent.
“If we continued with the original plan, we would have deliberately sown thousands upon thousands of COVID cases in WA and at this point, that’s not what I’m going to do,” McGowan told reporters.
McGowan said the original reopening plan was based on the less transferable Delta tribe, not Omicron.
“If not now, when?”
The state, which is the size of Western Europe with a population of only 2.7 million, has been closed to the rest of the country and the outside world for months, using its natural isolation to keep things low.
Currently, there are only 83 active cases in the state, compared to 550,000 in the country as a whole, and only a handful of them are Omicron.
The decision is likely to anger Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has long urged all states to open up and learn to live with the virus.
“I know many Western Australians will be very disappointed this morning and they will ask the question ‘if not now, when not?'” Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News.
Some WA travel conditions will still change on February 5, including allowing more people for compassionate reasons, although they will still have to isolate for 14 days.
The original plan would have allowed in double-grafted interstate and international travelers without completing quarantine. Now visitors will have to be vaccinated three times.
“What we are going to do is review the situation over February and look at what is happening in the east and work out what the best approach is for Western Australia,” McGowan said.
Cases have surfaced in recent weeks in the rest of the country, with illness and absenteeism overloading hospitals and causing significant disruptions to supply chains.