PERTH (BLOOMBERG) - The state of Western Australia is to re-open to travellers in a fortnight, meaning the entire country will soon be living with Covid-19 as one of the world's strictest virus control regimes comes to an end.
Premier Mark McGowan made the announcement on Friday (Feb 18) afternoon, saying that double-vaccinated international visitors would be allowed to enter the state quarantine-free from March 3. Australian residents travelling from another state will be required to have three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.
"The virus is already here, and we cannot stop its spread," said Mr McGowan. "March 3 will be a step forward for Western Australia."
Mr McGowan acknowledged some Western Australians would be "apprehensive" at the news, but noted vaccination rates were exceptionally high.
Western Australia was one of the world's last Covid-zero holdouts. It maintained strict border measures to isolate the state of 2.7 million people from the rest of the country, which in recent months has moved to lived with the virus.
The state had previously planned to re-open to the rest of Australia on Feb 5, but Mr McGowan delayed lifting border restrictions amid concerns vaccination rates were not high enough to avoid dangerous outbreaks of Covid-19.
Since then, the state has seen a surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant, with 202 cases reported on Friday.
Mr McGowan’s strict border controls were initially hugely popular in Western Australia, with his government winning a landslide re-election in 2021 after months with barely any Covid-19 infections in the state.
The delays and ongoing isolation led to growing unease and dissatisfaction in the state’s business community.
A survey by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Western Australia after Mr McGowan’s cancellation of the re-opening found that 65 per cent of businesses said it would impact them negatively.
There were also signs of impatience in the wider community.
A poll in early February found Mr McGowan’s approval rating was 64 per cent, far down from his sky-high 91 per cent rating in September 2020, The West Australian newspaper reported.