WA shelves COVID-19 border reopening plan

Premier Mark McGowan has broken his promise to reopen WA's borders next month.
Premier Mark McGowan has broken his promise to reopen WA's borders next month.

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 raises serious 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. For that, I am sorry," Mr McGowan told reporters.

"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.

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

Anyone who makes it into WA from February 5 will still be required to quarantine for 14 days.

Interstate travellers will be allowed to self-quarantine but must be triple-dose vaccinated if eligible. International arrivals are required to enter hotel quarantine for seven days before being allowed to self-quarantine.

Mr McGowan said the hard border controls would be further reviewed "over the course of the next month once the east coast has reached the peak of infection, and we have a better understanding of the true impact of Omicron".

The premier denied the health system was not ready for borders reopening.

"The advice we have is the health system is strong and ready, but the problem is the rollout of the third dose," he said.

"So all the advice we have is the third dose makes people's resistance to Omicron stronger."

Mr McGowan said he would like the third dose rate to get "above at least 80 per cent, perhaps 90 per cent".

WA's third dose rate currently sits at about 26 per cent, a level broadly comparable with that of the eastern states.

Mr McGowan had said last month the only reason WA wouldn't reopen its borders on February 5 was if there was an "unforeseen emergency", such as the emergence of a new deadlier strain or a realisation Omicron was deadlier than anticipated.

The premier insisted his position had not changed.

"It is an unforeseen catastrophe and it is an emergency. I mean, does anyone deny what's going on over there (in the eastern states) is not that?," he said.

"People aren't going to work, hospitals are overflowing, hundreds of people are dying ... shopping malls are empty. We are doing our best to avoid that."

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.

Australian Associated Press