No timeline for WA border, isolation rules

Premier Mark McGowan is under pressure to reopen WA's border, with local businesses suffering.
Premier Mark McGowan is under pressure to reopen WA's border, with local businesses suffering.

Western Australia will halve isolation periods for COVID-infected people and their close contacts but only when it reaches a yet-to-be defined higher caseload.

The decision reached by Premier Mark McGowan and other state leaders on Friday means WA will indefinitely retain its current 14-day quarantine requirement, while there is still no clarity on exactly when the borders will reopen.

Under revised definitions, close contacts will include household members, intimate partners or anyone who has had 15 minutes of face-to-face contact or spent two hours in a room with an infectious case while unmasked.

The new definitions will only come into effect once "high daily caseloads" are recorded in the community.

At that point, positive cases and their close contacts will only need to isolate for seven days unless they remain symptomatic.

People will be required to report positive rapid antigen test results to WA Health but casual contacts will no longer have to isolate.

It comes as WA reported nine new local cases on Friday, with just 7497 tests conducted despite Omicron clusters emerging throughout the state.

Mr McGowan did not provide a threshold for the "high caseload" but said it would take into account average case numbers and their level of exposure to the community.

"Right now, the virus is still at manageable levels and as such it is best to keep our current arrangements that help suppress the virus," he told reporters.

"Hopefully it is weeks away while we improve our third dose vaccination rates, depending on how our current outbreak plays out.

"Under these settings, one case in a bar would not shut the bar. One case would likely not shut an office or a warehouse.

"We're providing certainty as much as we can in a very uncertain environment."

The new definitions are stricter than those set by national cabinet and adopted by most other jurisdictions. They are broadly aligned with those of South Australia, where close contacts are required to isolate for 10 days rather than seven.

Different rules will apply to schools under the higher caseload setting, with the government determined to keep classrooms open.

Teachers and students who come into contact with a positive case but do not develop symptoms themselves will be encouraged to continue attending school, unless they had close one-on-one contact with the infected person.

Staff in those circumstances will be asked to take daily rapid antigen tests and quarantine when not at work.

"Face-to-face learning is our priority. We will not be closing schools," Education Minister Sue Ellery said.

The premier has conceded WA has no chance of eliminating its Omicron wave as it did previous outbreaks.

But he said the continued border closures and quarantine rules would buy valuable time to improve WA's third dose vaccine rate, currently at 34 per cent.

Opposition Leader Mia Davies panned the premier's "murky advice and confusing rules".

"He now continues to incite fear and anxiety in the community using highly inflammatory language to justify this decision," she said.

The lack of certainty regarding timelines is likely to further frustrate business owners who have expressed gloom over the border reopening delay.

WA's Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Friday said a survey of 400 local businesses showed most felt negatively about the decision, with many facing large financial losses and difficulties recruiting and retaining staff.

Australian Associated Press