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The state of Western Australia canceled plans to reopen its border to people arriving from neighboring states on February 5 due to the ongoing surge of omicron variant Covid-19 cases in other parts of the country, making it the last holdout of the zero-Covid strategy in one of the world’s most highly vaccinated nations which has embraced the ‘living with the virus’ approach.

Key Facts

In a press conference on Friday, Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan announced the cancelation of the reopening plans, pointing to the rapid spread of omicron in the rest of the country and adding that he did not want to see a “flood of disease.”

McGowan did not announce a new date for when the border restriction will be lifted.

Families expressed frustration at the last minute decision while businesses warned that the move could worsen the labor shortage in the mining state and hamper its economy.

The change of plans will also likely anger the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has urged state governments to embrace ‘living with the virus,’ once vaccination targets are reached.

On the same day as the western state’s decision, Australia’s most populous state New South Wales reported its deadliest day of the pandemic with 46 deaths.

Big Number

86.69%. That’s the percentage of Western Australia’s eligible population (people aged 12 and over) who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to a tracker run by the Sydney Morning Herald. The Australian federal government previously urged state governments to lift all pandemic restrictions once vaccine uptake crosses 80%.

Chief Critic

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg criticized the decision in an interview with Sky News stating: “I know that many West Australians will this morning be very disappointed and they will be asking the question ‘if not now, when?’…(Omicron is) highly transmissible but less severe and we need to learn to live with the virus.”

Key Background

In 2020, Australia relied on some of the world’s most stringent lockdowns and border control measures to successfully curb the spread of the coronavirus within its borders. However, after being faced with a persistent delta variant outbreak last year, the federal government pivoted to a ‘living with the virus’ strategy as the country’s vaccine rollout gathered pace. However, Western Australia continued to keep its borders shut and stuck with the Covid elimination strategy and as a result it has reported only nine deaths from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Western Australia isn’t the only holdout on border restrictions in the region as neighboring nation New Zealand has indicated that it may delay its planned reopening of its border due to Omicron. Similarly, China and Hong Kong have mixed border restrictions with swift lockdowns to prevent large outbreaks within their borders. However, the highly transmissible nature of Omicron has raised questions about the long term viability of such a strategy.

Further Reading

WA’s COVID-19 border will stay shut indefinitely. What now, and when might the state reopen? (ABC News)

Australia’s Last Covid-Zero State Scraps Plan to Finally Reopen (Bloomberg)

A divided nation: Western Australia stays shut as COVID deaths mount in east (Reuters)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

Source: Forbes

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