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McGowan breaks promise to reopen WA border

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West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has broken his promise to reopen the state’s borders next month, claiming it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to do so given the surge in Omicron COVID-19 cases across the country.

Mr McGowan announced the extraordinary backflip during a late-night press conference on Thursday, saying the state’s hard borders will remain in place indefinitely.

The premier had promised to reopen the borders once the state’s double-dose vaccination rate reached 90 per cent. It is currently at 89 per cent.

More compassionate exemptions will be granted from February 5, when the borders had been due to be brought down.

The decision is certain to raise questions about the government’s lack of preparedness after almost two years of border closures.

WA’s hospital system has struggled under the Labor government, with doctors and nurses concerned it could not handle a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I know this decision will be unpopular with many people, as holiday plans and some family gatherings will have been disrupted,” Mr McGowan told reporters.

“For that, I am sorry. I understand exactly what this means for many people who were hoping to reunite without any restrictions. But from February 5, there are enhanced compassionate exemptions.

“If we proceeded with the original plan, we would be deliberately seeding thousands upon thousands of COVID cases into WA and at this point in time, that is not what I’m going to do,” Mr McGowan said.

“Especially when the science says we need to boost third doses and so many young children still need to get their vaccine.”

The government had previously failed to outline community public health restrictions, close contact definitions, hospital surge protocols or school reopening plans.

It had also not released any modelling on the likely impact of the Omicron variant.

Australian Nursing Federation WA state secretary Mark Olson on Thursday said he would be “very surprised” if Mr McGowan proceeded with the February 5 reopening.

WA Health reported five new local COVID-19 cases on Thursday, including a person with no apparent connection to known clusters.

The infected person, identified overnight, has not been linked to any known cases and had been infectious in the community.

The other four cases were all contacts of previously reported cases. Two had been in quarantine and the others had been “potentially infectious” in the community.

WA has 79 active cases.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Wednesday recommended the lifting or relaxation of international travel bans and to not mandate proof of COVID-19 vaccination for travellers.

AAP

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