WA premier tests positive to COVID-19

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has tested positive to COVID-19 after one of his children was recently hospitalised with the virus.

According to a statement from the premier’s office on Friday evening, “the child is fully vaccinated but was in a serious condition as a result of the infection”.

“The child remains in hospital and is receiving ongoing treatment,” the statement said.

Mr McGowan had initially returned a negative test after becoming a close contact.

In a statement, the premier said he had taken another PCR test on Thursday and it had come back positive.

“It is not surprising considering one of my family members is positive,” he said on Friday.

“In accordance with the protocols, this will extend my quarantine period until I am hopefully cleared to leave home next Thursday afternoon, at the earliest.

“I will continue to quarantine and work from home over this period.”

The premier is scheduled to attend federal Labor’s election campaign launch in Perth on May 1.

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese also tested positive to the virus this week.

Mr McGowan did not provide any details on his condition but thanked staff at testing clinics.

“I would also like to acknowledge the vital contribution of our committed health workers who have not only cared for my family, but also the many Western Australians who have been affected by this virus,” he said.

WA last week moved to the national definition for close contacts, requiring only household members and intimate partners to isolate.

Strict proof of vaccination and mask-wearing requirements remain in place.

© AAP 2022

Australia reunited as WA hard border drops

The arrivals hall at Perth airport was filled with joy and hugs after midnight when the first interstate planes to take advantage of Western Australia’s border reopening landed.

After spending almost 700 days behind a hard border during the coronavirus pandemic, WA is finally welcoming vaccinated travellers.

About 5000 people will arrive on Thursday across 22 domestic flights and five international flights and tens of thousands are expected to follow in the coming weeks.

The first flight to hit the ground after midnight was a Qantas ‘red eye’ from Sydney.

Jubilant scenes lifted the domestic terminal as the more than 200 passengers were greeted by family and friends.

Television footage showed passengers crying “I’m so excited!”, “Finally!”.

One of the travellers was federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who will be campaigning in the seats of Pearce and Hasluck from Thursday to Saturday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was also expected to visit WA after the border came down but is isolating in Sydney as he recovers from COVID-19.

WA is the last jurisdiction in Australia to open its border to air travellers but there are some restrictions, including a requirement to be triple vaccinated, complete a travel entry pass and wear masks in the terminal. It’s already a national requirement to wear a mask on planes.

“Australia is now finally back together,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.

“This day has been a long time coming.

“It will be an emotional day for those reuniting with loved ones.”

Premier Mark McGowan originally planned to reopen in February but this was delayed due to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 within Australia over the summer.

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said he expected an influx of travellers after almost 23,000 travel applications were received by Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, getting a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will now be easier for people who can’t use an mRNA vaccine, like Pfizer, after the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended the Novavax vaccine.

Novavax can now be used for those over 18 when an mRNA vaccine is not suitable, and also as a booster shot.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said that since Novavax was first approved by the country’s medical regulator more than 25,000 doses had been administered as a first dose.

On Wednesday, more than 60 deaths from COVID-19 were reported across the country, including 28 in Victoria, 24 in Queensland, five in NSW, two in South Australia and two in the Northern Territory.

More than 29,000 new infections were detected, including 10,650 were in NSW, 7126 in Victoria, 5011 in Queensland, 2075 in SA, 1780 in WA, 1053 in the ACT, 624 in the NT and 868 in Tasmania.

© AAP 2022

WA to finally reopen borders from March 3

Western Australia will reopen its borders from March 3, bringing to an end almost 700 days of seclusion as the state’s Omicron outbreak continues to grow.

Premier Mark McGowan says WA is well-placed to handle the resumption of quarantine-free travel given the state’s high vaccination rates.

He acknowledged on Friday there was no prospect of stopping an outbreak which now numbers 794 active cases.

“Eventually there comes a point where the border is ineffective when you get to high case numbers within the state,” he told reporters.

“It is plain to see that four weeks of caution has paid dividends. It means it is now far safer to relax our hard border settings.”

Once the borders reopen, interstate travellers who are fully-vaccinated – including a third dose if eligible – will be able to travel to WA without quarantining.

Unvaccinated interstate travellers will remain locked out.

All international travellers will be allowed back in but those who are unvaccinated must serve two weeks in hotel quarantine.

The number of unvaccinated overseas arrivals will be limited to 70 per week.

Mr McGowan insisted there was no prospect he would again backflip on the reopening.

“This date is locked in and I can’t foresee a situation where it would change. It’s only 12 days away so it’s a lot closer than last time,” he said.

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said modelling suggested the WA caseload would peak at the end of March at around 10,000 daily infections.

WA is expected to reach “peak immunity” in March, but four lives are expected to be lost each day once the peak is reached.

The announcement came as WA recorded 194 local cases and eight travel-related infections on Friday.

WA Health has reported 486 local cases in the past three days.

Just over four weeks have passed since the premier announced an indefinite delay to the planned February 5 reopening.

At the time, the state had 79 active cases and a third-dose vaccination rate of 26 per cent.

More than 55 per cent of eligible West Australians have now received their booster, while the vaccination rate for children aged 5 to 11 has tripled to 45 per cent.

Mr McGowan said the number of cases in the eastern states on Friday was just over a third of the more than 75,000 cases recorded on January 20.

He said hospitalisations had roughly halved during the same period, justifying his controversial decision to delay the border reopening.

“I firmly believe saving West Australian lives has been worth every effort over the past two years,” he said.

The state will introduce tougher public health measures from Monday including extending the wearing of masks at indoor venues across the state.

“Level one” measures will come into effect in Perth, Peel, the South West, Great Southern and Pilbara regions, including a one person per two square metres rule at hospitality and entertainment venues, gyms, beauty services and places of worship.

Home gatherings will be limited to 30 people and private outdoor events in non-home settings to 200 people.

Visitor limits will also come into effect at hospitals and aged care venues, but people will not be required to work from home.

© AAP 2022

Man admits abducting Cleo Smith

A man has pleaded guilty in court to abducting Cleo Smith from her family’s West Australian campsite, sparking a widespread search and attracting global attention.

Terence Darrell Kelly, 36, on Monday admitted taking the four-year-old from a tent at the remote Blowholes campsite last year.

He faced a magistrate via videolink from custody, pleading guilty to forcibly taking a child under 16.

The matter has been adjourned to Perth District Court on March 20.

Kelly is also facing other criminal charges, including assaulting a public officer. Those matters have been adjourned to a later date.

Kelly remains in custody.

Cleo was found alive and well in early November, 18 days after she went missing from the campsite.

She was rescued from a property just minutes from her family home in the nearby town of Carnarvon, almost 1000km north of Perth.

Police forced entry to the home and found the little girl alone in a room, physically unharmed and playing with toys.

Kelly was arrested on a nearby street around the same time. He is alleged to have acted alone and is yet to enter a plea to his other charges.

Police have said he has no connection to Cleo’s family.

Kelly was shackled and accompanied by armed riot squad guards on a charter flight from Carnarvon to Perth after his first court appearance.

The extra security was put in place after Kelly was twice hospitalised with self-inflicted injuries while in custody.

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© AAP 2022

Border backflip leaves WA further isolated

West Australians face being trapped indefinitely within their own state after Premier Mark McGowan broke his promise to reopen its borders next month.

Mr McGowan announced the extraordinary backflip during a late-night press conference on Thursday, saying WA’s hard borders will remain in place indefinitely.

He claimed it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to proceed with the planned February 5 reopening given the surge in Omicron COVID-19 cases across the country.

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.

“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,” Mr McGowan told reporters.

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.

He insisted the health system was “strong and ready” but said he would like WA’s third dose rate to get as high as 90 per cent.

It currently sits around 26 per cent, a level comparable with 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.

He insisted his position had not changed despite WA having just 79 active cases.

“People aren’t going to work (in the eastern states), hospitals are overflowing, hundreds of people are dying … shopping malls are empty,” he said.

“We are doing our best to avoid that.”

Opposition health spokeswoman Libby Mettam said the premier’s plan to “lock WA up indefinitely” showed a failure of leadership.

Head of the Australian Medical Association Dr Omar Khorshid lashed out at Mr McGowan for his lack of courage.

“Seems WA Premier @MarkMcGowanMP is a one trick pony when it comes to #COVID19. Hard border with the rest of the country and world remains despite almost 90% vacced,” the Perth-based AMA president tweeted.

“Was hoping for more courage from a Premier with an unprecedented parliamentary majority. This decision should be acknowledged as a failure by the WA govt to prepare and a broken promise.

“Omicron is here already and it will cause a significant outbreak in WA soon enough. Sticking our head in the sand won’t make it go away. Let’s prepare!”

© AAP 2022