Senior health experts, Qantas join line of critics to controversial WA hard border
Senior health experts have hit out at Premier Mark McGowan after he announced a delay in reopening the West Australian border despite Omicron already spreading in the state.
Mr McGowan scrapped the February 5 date, citing the surge of cases in the eastern states and suggesting parents needed more time to vaccinate their children, while others required more time to get their booster shot.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said on Monday that the border was never going to protect WA from Omicron forever.
“Relying on it as the main strategy now is unwise, especially as we have the virus spreading exponentially in WA,” he wrote on social media.
“Sensible public health measures early (are) needed, not when it’s too late. Mark McGowan knows this but still pushes this line that we are safe behind our border wall.
“The idea that we can extend our time in ‘paradise’ without having to face the virus is a fantasy and this has been acknowledged by the Premier in the past. Hence my shock/disappointment.”
Dr Khorshid further added that the virus was getting ahead of WA.
“A well managed summer outbreak, while the elderly are recently boosted, (is) likely to be better than waiting until winter with waning boosters, influenza and when hospitals in WA (are) already full to the brim without Covid,” he said.
Dr Khoshid previously described Mr McGowan as a “one trick pony” over the hard border stance.
He also urged the state government to introduce tougher restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, such as venue capacity limits. WA already has a mask mandate for indoor public places.
“Our bubble has burst and NSW shows that if you let it rip the consequences will be dire,” Dr Khorshid said.
His comments come after former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said postponing the reopening risked an outbreak during the flu season.
“Delay WA border opening until 80 per cent boosted, which will occur sometime around May, to coincide with the start of the winter flu season, which may well be worse this year due to lack of, you guessed it, immunity from recent infection. Courageous indeed,” he wrote on social media.
More than 1300 people have also signed a petition calling for the WA border to reopen on February 5, as originally planned.
Meanwhile, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told 6PR radio on Monday that the airline had 20,000 people booked to fly in the first week of the border reopening, who then had their flights cancelled.
Mr Joyce said families had been left heartbroken and there was also a lot of anxiety for businesses in Australia with the continuing hard border.
“This uncertainty is creating for us a lot of angst about what do we plan going forward without having a certain date,” he said.
Late last week when Mr McGowan made the announcement, there were a flood of comments on social media from families who complained about still being separated by the hard border.
But the Premier insisted the “significantly expanded exemption criteria” meant many people would still be able to travel to WA to see their family.
Opposition tourism spokesman Vince Catania said many struggling businesses had worked hard to meet requirements for the February 5 reopening and now their hopes were dashed.
“Those tourism and business operators have now been left without any clear plan or direction on what the change to an indefinite reopening date means for them,” he said.
“Industry deserves certainty after shouldering the brunt of snap lockdowns to keep our state safe, generally announced with little time for them to pivot their businesses or face significant financial losses.”
AMA WA president Mark Duncan-Smith has also called for a new reopening date to be set.
On Sunday, Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson conceded WA would not be able to get rid of Omicron, which had already spread throughout Perth and the South West region.
“I think it’s clear that we’re not going to eliminate Omicron, it’s now about how we suppress and manage Omicron and that’s our intention as government and certainly that’s the advice of the chief health officer,” she said.
In his advice, chief health officer Andy Robertson said if Omicron became established in WA the Premier should consider reopening the border when there was a “community daily caseload above a threshold level”, which was not defined.
Ms Sanderson revealed WA had recorded 24 new local cases, which was a huge jump in infections.
It included a Covid-positive mother and child who were not appropriately triaged at the emergency department of Fiona Stanley Hospital, forcing several people into isolation.
“South Metropolitan Health Service apologise that the mother and child were sent to the incorrect location upon triage where they sat in the paediatric waiting room for a short period of time,” a statement from an SMHS spokesperson read.
“Both were wearing surgical masks, but some casual contacts have been identified, include two staff. All impacted people have been contacted and instructed to isolate.
“We are conducting a full review into the incident, and our staff will learn from this.”
Ms Sanderson said the mother was not at fault.
She said the risk to the contacts was low but further training would be undertaken.
Opposition leader Mia Davies said the state government had two years to prepare WA hospitals for the eventual influx of Covid-19 cases in our community.
“That moment has arrived and all we are seeing is an inexperienced health minister providing excuses for disturbing and unacceptable breaches,” she said.
“The reality is that the Premier was forced to delay reopening because his government failed to prepare.”
WA’s Covid-19 figures for Monday are yet to be released.
Originally published as Senior health experts, Qantas join line of critics to controversial WA hard border
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