20 May 2020

Statement from WA Chief Health Officer: COVID-19 restrictions in Western Australia

Current as at 1430hrs WST

The implementation of border controls at both the international and state levels, along with public health, mass gathering and social distancing measures, has been highly effective in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak in Western Australia (WA). 

The Australian Government’s decision, on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), to ban passengers arriving on flights from China on 01 February 2020, and subsequently all non-Australian passengers from 24 March, and the quarantine of all arrivals, had a significant impact on the introduction of COVID-19 into Australia. As the number of cases fell from international entries, the number of interstate cases rose. 

Western Australia’s decisions to require self-quarantine following interstate travel on 24 March 2020 (Self Quarantine following Interstate Travel Directions), prohibit regional travel on 31 March 2020 (Prohibition on Regional Travel Directions) and close the interstate border (Quarantine (Closing the Border) Directions) on 05 April 2020, along with the Closure and Restriction Directions, were highly effective in reducing interstate cases and eliminating community spread. 

COVID-19 cases fell from 35 cases reported on 24 March 2020 to 14 cases by 09 April 2020. Since 29 April, there have only been 3 new cases, all directly related to travellers.

With the current low levels of cases, which are still primarily related to people travelling to WA, the current restrictions on activities and intrastate travel can be eased off in a controlled and measured way, as outlined by AHPPC in their advice to National Cabinet. 

With the introduction of Phase 2 on the 18 May 2020, health surveillance, including enhanced testing, is being undertaken to ensure that there are no outbreaks or community spread. If this is successful, further Phases can be implemented that will enable restrictions to be eased further. This graduated response, including lifting of the regional borders in stages, is designed to be sustainable and to minimise spread, if it were to occur, and enable rapid response to any outbreaks. If effective, there will be no requirement to close hospitality, community or sports sectors again in response to isolated outbreaks. 

With continued COVID-19 outbreaks in several jurisdictions, including 24 cases in the last 3 days across 2 jurisdictions, the risk of introduction across an interstate border remains. The current quarantine restrictions ensure that such cases are isolated and unable to spread the disease further within the community. 

While AHPPC provided no specific advice on interstate borders, closure has been an effective mechanism in reducing the introduction of disease in several jurisdictions, including South Australia, Queensland and Northern Territory. 

As Western Australia increases the size of mass gatherings in the hospitality, community and sports sectors in Phases 2 and 3, the re-introduction of COVID-19 back into the community from travellers could lead to substantial outbreaks that may require either delay in easing of further restrictions or re-introduction of social distancing and mass gathering measures.

Until community spread is eliminated in the affected jurisdictions, which will require at least a month to confirm (two 14-day incubation periods), opening of the interstate borders is not recommended. If the community spread is controlled, relaxation of the interstate borders could be considered after the introduction and assessment of the impact of Phase 4.

Dr Andrew Robertson
Chief Health Officer


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