Mixed emotions as Geraldton residents respond to news WA will reopen borders in February

Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
WA Premier announces lifting of border restrictions.
Camera IconWA Premier announces lifting of border restrictions. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

Geraldton’s tourism industry, hospitality businesses and residents eager to hug their loved ones for the first time in two years are eagerly counting down the days until WA drops its hard border.

But the news was met with fear and anger for some residents worried about COVID-19 entering the Mid West, with healthcare workers also concerned about what a virus outbreak would mean for the thousands of locals who are yet to get vaccinated.

This was also a concern for some who took to social media to express their frustration after the Premier’s announcement, with one woman commenting she “wouldn’t care” if WA’s borders remained shut.

“We have been so lucky to be free for so long to travel our beautiful State, now the worries start, not everyone cares about other people and will not do what is asked of them,” she said.

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Helloworld Geraldton owner and travel agent Katrina Miragliotta said some would still be hesitant to travel overseas after February 5, but her phones had not stopped ringing as Geraldton residents rushed to book in exotic holidays and reunions with loved ones.

“They have cabin fever and money to burn because some industries have done very well in COVID,” she said.

“Tasmania has just opened up, the US is starting to open up, I have people wanting to go to South America, Singapore has just opened up . . . and we have people wanting to go to New Zealand.”

Ms Miragliotta said businesses suffering labour shortages were also eager for international workers to be allowed back in to the State.

“At the moment everyone is crying out for staff but when the borders open, we are going to have more backpackers and people to help support businesses,” she said.

But Ms Miragliotta said planning a vacation or a working holiday was no longer as simple as “just buying a ticket and hopping on a plane” due to the myriad of COVID-19 travel regulations enforced across the globe.

“You can’t be naïve and people have to be very mindful of the COVID way of travelling,” she said.

“There are apps they have to download, they have to get a PCR test, consider their insurance and unlimited medical and then they need to make sure they have proof of vaccination.”

Ms Miragliotta said it was significantly more difficult for people to travel if they did not have their COVID vaccinations.

“I got an inquiry for people who are stuck in Poland at the moment and they want to come back (to Geraldton) and they are unvaccinated, so that is very complicated,” she said.

Midwest GP Network deputy chair Dr Ian Taylor said border closures had bought the health industry time to prepare for an outbreak of COVID-19 in WA, but said the State could not stay in its “bubble” forever.

“We have to learn to live with COVID eventually,” he said.

“We have been living in a dream land, a little isolation bubble that is going to burst big time on February 5.”

Dr Taylor said COVID-19 would inevitably enter WA and the Mid West when borders reopen, meaning it was more important than ever for people to get vaccinated.

“It is an insidious virus that will always find a way through the weakest point, and the weakest point is the unvaccinated,” he said.

“Even if you have got 10 per cent of the population that is not vaccinated, we are still going to possibly look at thousands of cases, of which a significant proportion of that will end up in hospital, some will end up in ICU and a proportion of those is going to die.

“COVID will come in and we will have to live with it, and if we don’t do it correctly and look after ourselves properly we are actually going to die with it.”

Dr Taylor said he was particularly concerned about the Omicron variant and how it would affect Geraldton’s vulnerable populations.

To prevent severe COVID-19 symptoms, Dr Taylor recommended everyone get their booster dose when they were eligible.

“A lot of people that are getting Omicron are double vaccinated and fortunately they are getting a mild disease or almost no symptoms,” he said.

“That means the vaccines are working, and I think people can be reassured that just because you get a positive test, particularly if you are double vaccinated, it doesn’t mean you necessarily will get sick.”

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