COVID-19 Wrap: Lockdown transition, cabinet meets

05/02/2021 - 14:53

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In today's COVID-19 Wrap, Perth, Peel and South West regions prepare for life out of lockdown, the national cabinet meets to discuss hotel quarantine, and businesses compensated.

Mark McGowan. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The Perth, Peel and South West regions will begin the transition out of the five-day lockdown in a matter of hours following confirmation Western Australia had recorded its fifth consecutive day with no new locally acquired cases of COVID-19.

Nearly 50,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in WA since the lockdown began last Sunday after a hotel security guard at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Perth's CBD contracted the highly contagious UK strain of the virus from a returned overseas traveller.

The man visited several locations across the Perth metropolitan area in the days after it is believed he became contagious.

All but one of the man’s 191 casual contacts have been tested and are now in quarantine.

Mr McGowan outlined the state’s planned lockdown during a press conference last night, under which restrictions will be lifted completely in the South West but masks will remain mandatory in the Perth metropolitan area and the Peel region.

Under the plan, formed by the State Disaster Council on the basis of health advice from chief health officer Andrew Robertson, Western Australians in those regions will be free to leave their homes, with schools, businesses and retail venues allowed to reopen, but masks will remain mandatory indoors, outdoors, and on public transport.

There will be a four-square-metre capacity rule and a 150-person capacity limit enforced at hospitality, entertainment and venues and events, including weddings and funerals, as well as for community sport.

Visits to aged care facilities will be restricted to compassionate grounds and only essential travel will be permitted in and out of the Perth and Peel regions to other parts of WA.

Provided the state continues to record no new locally acquired cases, the transitional restrictions are expected to be in place until 12:01am on Sunday February 14.

The transition from the lockdown aims to help bring confidence while the state waits for further testing and the virus’s full 14-day incubation period.

Hotel quarantine, flight caps discussed at national cabinet

The cap on international travellers, the efficacy of the hotel quarantine system, and the ever-changing risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic were among the topics discussed at this morning’s national cabinet meeting.

During a press conference this morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the cap on international arrivals would return to previous levels for NSW and Queensland from February 15.

South Australia’s cap will increase to 530, and Victoria’s will increase to 1,310.

But WA will maintain its cap on international arrivals until February 28 while it continues to transition out of lockdown following a locally acquired case last week.

Despite concerns raised this week about the current hotel quarantine system following outbreaks in WA and Victoria, Mr Morrison said the country’s system for returned overseas travellers would not change and had been incredibly effective at containing the virus.

He said the number of breaches recorded was small when considering that the system had accommodated 211,000 returned travellers.

Australia’s chief medical officer professor Paul Kelly said the country had recorded just six new cases in the past 24 hours, none of which had been locally acquired.

Professor Kelly credited the strength of the country’s hotel quarantine system and border controls with having successfully protected the Australian public and said the focus now would be looking at the increased transmissibility of the ever-changing virus, including the South African and the UK strains.

Mr Morrison also announced that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s secretary had been appointed to lead an investigation into how the risks affecting Australia’s management of the pandemic have changed and how the country should respond.

Secretary Philip Gaetjens is expected to work with the director generals of all states and territories to determine how the new emerging strains, the testing and contact tracing system, hotel quarantine and the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines could all impact the risk environment.

Mr Morrison warned that the risk matrix had shifted in 2021, and stressed the importance of identifying and addressing new trends that could jeopardise the country’s ability to manage the virus.

Business support falls well short: Kirkup

The Liberal Party WA has criticised the state government’s $500 electricity credit for small businesses affected by the five-day lockdown, saying it falls well short and demanding relief grants of up to $10,000.

More than 80,000 small businesses were forced to close their doors on Sunday evening with just four hours notice after a locally acquired COVID case prompted a five-day lockdown of the Perth, Peel and South West regions.

Yesterday, the party called on the state government to provide emergency financial support to businesses affected.

This morning, Premier Mark McGowan announced a $500 electricity credit for small business owners, but opposition leader Zak Kirkup said that simply was not good enough.

“We know that there are some 85,000 businesses that have borne the brunt of this lockdown,” he said.

“When compared to other states and territories, this government’s announcement falls well short - with other states and territories rolling out grants of up to $10,000.

“Western Australian businesses, the backbone of our state’s economy, are left wanting.

“A $500 credit simply doesn’t go far enough and doesn’t give the businesses here the support they deserve.

“Our businesses deserve better support from this government, particularly one that is sitting on a $2.1 billion surplus.”

Rio Tinto reinstates COVID controls

Today, mining giant Rio Tinto has reinstated its COVID-19 controls at Perth Airport for workers traveling to the Pilbara.

A spokesperson for the company said its COVID-19 response team, together with medical and health experts were working to safely remobilise essential workers to Rio Tinto sites and ensure the health and safety of its workforce and the community.

Under the controls, all approved essential workers will be required to undertake and pass three levels of screening in order to travel, including a temperature check, questionnaire and a nasal swab which detects COVID-19 early in the virus life-cycle of asymptomatic people.

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