How do we move from living in fear of COVID to living with it?
“Get vaccinated,” West Australian Premier Mark McGowan said.
“Once people are vaccinated at very high levels, we can much better cope with COVID.”
This statement was made during an interview on September 3 last year.
At the time, WA had a double-dose vaccination rate of just over 33 per cent and Omicron was not in the picture.
Now, more than 90 per cent of WA’s population aged over 12 is double-dose vaccinated, with a triple-dosed rate of around 34 per cent.
But Mr McGowan has described the highly transmissible Omicron variant as an “emergency”, prompting him to cancel the state’s planned border reopening on February 5.
At his press conference on Thursday, Mr McGowan started by pointing out that Australia had recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic so far.
“That is a hard, unavoidable and very uncomfortable fact,” he said.
Amid accusations of fearmongering in the wake of his decision to delay WA’s border reopening indefinitely, Mr McGowan doubled down this week.
“It [COVID-19] is something to worry about, “he said.
“You should not downplay it.
“And then there is the death rate and the hospitalization rate.
“All I am trying to do is make sure we are prepared and our vaccination rates are right, particularly for those who are older or immunocompromised.”
Waning boosters may offset increased vaccination rates
However, many of the most vulnerable West Australians have already had a third dose and experts have warned the efficacy of that dose could soon begin to wane.
The WA government has not yet released any Omicron modeling.
George Milne, a professor at the University of Western Australia who specializes in disease modeling, told ABC Radio this week the build-up of immunity from boosters would be countered by waning immunity from those who have already had the vaccine.
“And in fact, coincidentally, we’re showing that around the time that the border would have opened, that there is a level of immunity in the population that it’s hard to get higher than,” Professor Milne said.
WA’s Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson advised the government that beyond March, the waning of protection from boosters was anticipated to offset the gain of high rates, “particularly among the elderly and healthcare workers who were boosted early”.
He also recommended, in his January 19 advice to the state government, a review of reopening options within four weeks.
He said this would allow time for further modeling and the consideration of other factors including “the potential to run into the winter surge period, baseline bed availability, booster vaccine numbers, the waning of protection in vulnerable groups and ongoing issues with health workforce recruitment” .
This advice would indicate an announcement on a new opening date could not be too far off.
But the Premier would not commit to opening in March.
“We’ll take advice and we’ll consider it all in February,” he said this week.
Calls for clarity on reopening date from both sides
The decision to delay border reopening has divided opinion in Western Australia.
But on both sides of the fence, there are calls for clarity and a new date to be set.
“WA businesses are suspended in a void of uncertainty,” Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief economist Aaron Morey said.
“They need a new date for reopening as soon as possible.”
However, the business community has welcomed some certainty around WA’s isolation and close contact rules.
“They clearly understand we need to keep the economy moving and ticking along in the face of that eventual rising outbreak,” Mr Morey said.
On Saturday, WA recorded 22 new local cases of COVID-19.
Before Christmas, Mr McGowan said the hard border could potentially become “redundant” if COVID was already in the state.
But this week, he said even if WA reached high community numbers, that would “not necessarily” make the border redundant.
“Border arrangements are crucial whilst the eastern states [are] peaking to keeping caseloads and case numbers down here, “he said.
The Premier could be forgiven for being hesitant to set a new date after his 11th-hour border backflip.
But after a date they were told was “locked-in” ended up being cast aside at the last minute, West Australians could be forgiven for being hesitant to trust the next announcement, whenever it may come.
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