By Heather McNeill
Premier Mark McGowan has announced WA's easing of restrictions to phase 5 will be delayed as authorities revealed more than 1000 Victorians had entered WA in the past week, despite the hard border. WA was scheduled to lift all its social distancing restrictions except its hard border on July 18, paving the way for a sell-out 60,000 crowd at the upcoming Western Derby.
However, Mr. McGowan said the issue would be reconsidered in two week's time with a new phase 5 date touted for August 1.
"Given the number of people in hotel quarantine and the situation in Victoria worsening, there is an increased risk of the virus spreading," he said.
"We've decided to be extra cautious here, I wish we could move to the next phase, I really do, but a slight delay is a sensible decision to make.
"If a slight delay means our freedoms and our health are protected, it will be well worth the wait.
"I understand this decision will have a knock on effect to some events and some businesses, some people will be disappointed, I understand that."
Under current phase 4 restrictions, in place since June 26, West Australians must adhere to the two-square-metre per person capacity rule, and major events at Optus Stadium, HBF Park and RAC Arena are capped at 50 per cent crowds.
The two-week delay to consider a move to phase 5 will allow health authorities to detect any COVID-19 cases in the hundreds of Melburnians who have entered the state in recent days before border restrictions were tightened.
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said over 1000 Victorians had entered WA in the past week before authorities moved to clamp down on those allowed to seek an exemption to enter.
He said those scheduled to arrive today had been told it was unlikely they would be allowed to enter, and as a result around half the passengers got off the plane before it departed Melbourne.
"So that's good news, perhaps not for them, but it is for Western Australia," Mr Dawson said.
WA Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson said he accepted the decision to delay lifting restrictions would be an unpopular but necessary one.
He said a factor in deciding to halt the phase 5 progression was due to West Australian's complacency.
"It's evident people believe the risk to them is low," he said.
"Unfortunately this disease has not gone away and now is not the time for complacency.
"Hand-shaking, hugging and general returns to pre-COVID behaviour are now evident in the community."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also warned Australians in COVID-free states not to become complacent, singling out West Australians currently enjoying relaxed restrictions.
The Prime Minister urged the country to learn from the Victorian experience after the state recorded a record 288 new cases overnight.
WA recorded three new cases, all returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
“It’s important social distancing is the norm, it’s not the exception, it’s the norm and it’s going to be the norm with us for a very long time until at least we have a vaccine that can be mass-produced and made available across the population,” he said.
“Even in places like in WA for example, where there is a considerable easing of restrictions, it is very important that the social distancing practices – the washing the hands, the no handshakes, all of these things [continue].
“If there were to be an outbreak in any of those places, in Queensland, in South Australia, the Northern Territory, in Western Australia, in Tasmania, if social distancing is no longer the habit then we would see outbreaks in those places spread more rapidly.
“So just because everything is ok now, does not mean you go back to the way you were doing things before in terms of social distancing, I say that as an encouragement.”
Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly echoed Mr Morrison’s sentiments.
“We are all at risk, regardless of whether we’re living in Perth, or if you’re living in a rural area,” he said.
The comments come after the outbreak in Victoria had begun showing evidence of seeping into other states, including New South Wales, the ACT and the Northern Territory.
WA’s social distancing rules are among the least restrictive in the country, with no community infections recorded since April 11.
The border has been closed to interstate travellers since April 6, however hundreds of people were still entering the state each day after successfully applying for exemptions.
The state government is refusing to reveal how many Victorians arrived in Perth in the first week of July, with 15 flights from Melbourne touching down.
On Friday the border closure was hardened further to only permit Victorians vital to the running of WA’s supply chains, such as truck drivers and freight workers.
In contrast, Queensland opened its borders to all except anyone who has been in Victoria in the past 14 days on Friday. The sunshine state has not recorded a case of unknown community transmission since May 2.
Virgin Australia announced a sales blitz on tickets, offering flights from Perth to Brisbane for $199 one way, however there's no guarantee West Australians seeking a holiday would be allowed to return if they left the state.
West Australians are also allowed to travel to South Australia, New South Wales, the ACT and soon the Northern Territory.
Premier Mark McGowan has remained defiant WA's border would not open until it was safe to do so.
The post about “WA delays phase 5 as authorities reveal more than 1000 Victorians entered state in past week" first appeared on the WA Today website.
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