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Western Australia remains closed as COVID deaths rise in the east

FILE PHOTO: The words "OMICRON SARS-COV-2" are seen reflected in a drop from a syringe needle in this illustration taken December 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The large mining state of Western Australia has cancelled plans to reopen its borders on Feb. 5, citing health concerns related to an increase in the Omicron COVID-19 strain in eastern states.

The news: The country reported 86 deaths from the virus on Friday, the bloodiest day since the outbreak began, according to estimates from state and territorial governments that have reported so far.

  • New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populated state, recorded 46 COVID-19 related deaths on its deadliest day, including one new born, while Victoria state reported 20 deaths. However, a decrease in hospitalizations in both states gave hope that the current outbreak had peaked.
  • Despite a record rise in cases, all states and territories, with the exception of Western Australia (WA), have reopened their internal borders under a policy of living with COVID-19. Western Australia was supposed to follow suit the following month.
  • However, Western Australia’s state premier, Mark McGowan, made a surprise declaration late Thursday, stating that opening up would be reckless and irresponsible given Omicron’s rapid spread.
  • Instead, the reopening would be postponed forever, or at the very least until the percentage of triple dosage vaccines reached 80 per cent. It is currently at roughly 26 per cent.
  • As a result of this decision, Qantas Airways Ltd lowered its Australian seat capacity by another 10 per cent in the March quarter, bringing it to 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
  • The original re-opening plan, according to McGowan, was based on the less-transmissible Delta strain, not Omicron.

What’s going on: The state, which has a population of 2.7 million people and is the size of Western Europe, has been locked off to the rest of the country and the outside world for months, taking advantage of its natural isolation to keep cases low.

  • Only 83 active cases exist in the state, compared to 550,000 across the country, and only a few of those are Omicron.
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has long urged all states to open up and learn to live with the virus, is expected to be enraged by the decision.

What’s next: On February 5, some travel rules in Washington will alter, including allowing more people in for compassionate reasons, though they will still have to isolate for 14 days.

  • The original idea would have allowed interstate and foreign travellers who have been double-vaccinated to enter without having to go through quarantine. Visitors will now be required to receive three vaccinations.

In recent weeks, cases have exploded across the country, overwhelming hospitals and causing substantial supply chain disruptions due to illness and absenteeism.

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