Western Australia was due to enter Phase 5 of its recovery roadmap this Saturday with practically all restrictions removed except its hard border, but heightened threats from overseas arrivals have thrown a spanner in the works.
As the state now goes six months without community spread, health authorities are on alert over the recent entry of New Zealand travellers from other parts of the country, as well as 24 COVID-positive cases for ship workers on a vessel docked at Fremantle.
Premier Mark McGowan highlighted Western Australia was currently one of the most open and free societies on the planet, but its relaxations of internal controls also made it more vulnerable if the hard border were to be breached.
"Western Australia remains more susceptible to a major outbreak given nearly all physical distancing and gathering restrictions have been removed," he said.
Because of these concerns, the state's Chief Health Officer has recommended a further two months be considered for Phase 4 modified measures.
With new modifications to the phase from 11:59pm on 23 October, selected venues with predominantly seated events will be exempt from the two square metre rule.
"They will be permitted to reach up to 60 per cent of their usual maximum capacity for seated and ticketed performances," McGowan said.
"These venues include theatres, concert halls, auditoriums, amphitheatres, cinemas, comedy lounges and performing arts centres.
"These venues have been deemed low risk by the Chief Health Officer as they are seated," he said, adding these new measures would allow these venues and industries the opportunity to function, particularly in the culture and arts sector.
Today's announcements were made against a backdrop of unease in the Western Australian Government over recent developments.
Premier McGowan urged the Federal Government to "slow down" with border bubbles, and noted 23 New Zealand travellers were now in quarantine in the state.
"They will be tested in accordance with our hotel quarantine testing regime for international arrivals," he said.
"Exempt travellers from New Zealand via Sydney or Darwin will be sent to a hotel quarantine though at their own expense.
"A rushed approach to border control is not in Australia's interests. It is not in Western Australia's interest - we need to get back to National Cabinet and find a working solution."
He also revealed test results had just come through from crew members of the Al Messilah ship in Fremantle.
"We have a further 24 positive COVID-19 crew members on the ship currently at Fremantle Port. This is in addition to the one positive case reported over the weekend," he said.
"Obviously these test results are only at one point in time, so it is possible we could get further positive results in the coming days given there are 52 crew on board."
Premier McGowan said it was becoming clear ships arriving with COVID-19 on board are one of the weakest links and biggest risk to WA's way of life.
"This is why we demand the Commonwealth Government step up and work with other jurisdictions on this issue - we need a coordinated international approach to this, and we need our Federal Government to take international action," he said.
"Foreign Affairs is the Commonwealth's responsibility, and the arrival of unwell maritime crew is now fast becoming the most difficult issue for our authorities to manage safely without putting our community at risk."
Photo: Bahnfrend, via Wikimedia Commons
Updated at 2:16pm AWST on 19 October.
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