Is Western Australia going to stay isolated forever?
Despite previously saying that he was going to open his state to the world from 5 February, Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan has reneged.
Unsurprisingly, he is trying to blame anyone and anything else, with the blame this time being put on omicron. Apparently the “world changed in December when omicron arrived”, and so reopening has been pushed back until:
“once the east coast has reached the peak of infection, and we have a better understanding of the true impact of omicron”.
This is despite 89% of Western Australians 16 and over having received both doses of the vaccine. This is also despite omicron appearing far milder, albeit far more contagious, than other variants including delta.
While omicron has led to a surge in cases on the east coast, people who catch it are far less likely to die or be hospitalised than if they catch other variants. As such, I would argue that omicron is, relatively speaking, even more reason to reopen now before a more deadly variant potentially appears in coming months.
Particularly as McGowan seemingly doesn’t want to acknowledge that COVID-19 is here to stay. The virus is now endemic, and it is inevitable that additional variants will emerge. Hopefully they are of the milder variety like omicron but either way, the only response from governments should be to encourage as many of their citizens as possible to get vaccinated – and take any necessary boosters – before getting back to some sort of normality.
This was first acknowledged by former New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and subsequently – albeit reluctantly – also acknowledged by Victorian Premier Dan Andrews. Even Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is refusing to back McGowan’s hard border stance as she too has finally seen the light.
Given the virus is so contagious – even before the delta and omicron variants emerged – this was the only logical, long-term response.
Unfortunately, it is in any politician’s self-interest, regardless of party, to deny reality as long as possible if he or she can argue that they are keeping their citizens “safe”.
Due to Western Australia’s isolation and relatively low population, and also because Sydney and, to a lesser extent, Melbourne, were receiving the bulk of international arrivals while our foreign borders were closed, McGowan has been able to get away with his hard border stance.
He has also utilised Western Australians’ general dislike of their fellow Australians to blame eastern governments for letting the virus spread, despite this being inevitable as noted above.
For how long?
While Western Australians probably support McGowan’s decision, they are in the same camp as those on the east coast who constantly argued for an elimination strategy until it became obvious it was impossible to achieve.
Ultimately, McGowan will have to bow to the inevitable and acknowledge reality. Until then, though, Western Australian businesses that are suffering from labour shortages and from the lack of both domestic and international tourism will have to continue to try to survive by any means possible.
I don’t envy their position, but this all the result of McGowan’s intransigence.