‘COVID-19 does not respect celebrations’: WA slams shut border with Victoria on New Year’s Eve

Western Australia's hard border with Victoria will be reinstated from midnight going into New Year's Day in response to a growing coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne.

From 12.01am on Friday – the first day of 2021 – only travellers from Victoria with a valid exemption will be allowed to enter the state and will be required to isolate for 14 days.

WA Health Minister Roger CookCredit:Peter de Kruijff

People who have been in Victoria since December 21 will also need to self-isolate for 14 days immediately and get tested for the virus on day 11 of their quarantine – or earlier if they develop symptoms of the disease.

As many as 16,000 people who have arrived in WA from Victoria since the cut-off date will need to isolate.

Acting WA Premier Roger Cook said exemptions would be assessed on a case-by-case basis and follow the same criteria as restrictions rolled out for New South Wales on December 19, which include senior government officials, active military personnel, and transport industry workers.

West Australians who travelled to Victoria over the Christmas holidays will be allowed to return home on compassionate grounds.

"In light of the outbreak in Victoria WA will strengthen its border controls to reduce the risk of the virus getting into our community," Mr Cook said.

"What we feared happened occurred, it appeared the virus has jumped the border to Victoria. Clearly, we are dealing with an unpredictable situation that is like to get worse before it gets better.

"This is consistent with our approach with South Australia … we can see an emerging pattern in relation to Victoria, particularly in terms of their exposure to NSW, so we think it's appropriate to move straight to the medium risk."

Mr Cook acknowledged the pain the hard border would cause families planning to reunite in the new year but added the virus "does not respect celebrations".

"What it means is people who are here from Victoria cannot go out tonight on New Year's Eve. It is really unfortunate but it is necessary that they stay home, we just cannot afford to take the risk," he said.

There are eight flights scheduled to land at Perth Airport from Melbourne on Thursday and another eight on Friday, carrying a total of approximately 3000 passengers.

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said all G2G passes for Victorian travellers who arrive after the midnight cut-off would be cancelled.

"Travellers will be asked to re-apply, so if you have an existing approval and you are yet to arrive in WA, then you will have to re-apply because the conditions have changed," he said.

"It has been the practice previously when we've had to make further changes to our controlled borders."

Victoria recorded five further cases of COVID-19 on Thursday in addition to three women who tested positive on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to eight.

The new cases are among more than 70 close contacts of the original three in the Melbourne areas of Hallam, Mitcham, and Mentone, which stretch into parts of regional Victoria.

WA is the only state or territory so far to shut its border to Victoria in relation to the current outbreak.

Health officials preparing for long lines with testing surge

Mr Cook is expecting long lines but not the same influx of patients for COVID-19 testing clinics as when the state shut the door on New South Wales travellers and told recent arrivals from the eastern state to immediately get a test.

Large lines formed outside of COVID-19 clinics around Perth, including Royal Perth Hospital, when the border rules changed for NSW arrivals. 

Testing clinics were overwhelmed on December 17 with hundreds of people turned away and the backlog of people seeking tests only cleared the following day.

Mr Cook said the government had learned its lesson from the experience and was spreading out the testing by having people only get checked on the day 11 after their arrival.

"Even with a surge of health staff and additional operating hours, it is likely we will see queues at our clinics," he said.

"If you have recently been in contact with someone from Victoria in WA, you do not need to be tested, but the general rule continues to apply. if you develop any symptoms, get a test.

"This is the world we live in right now and I thank everyone for their patience and their understanding."

Mr Dawson said people who had arrived before the midnight changes would need to engage with police to make sure they had an appropriate quarantining arrangement in place.

West Australians already holidaying in Victoria to be allowed to return on compassionate grounds

The police commissioner urged returning West Australians to be truthful in filling out their G2G passes.

"As we did when we previously had to adjust the borders … we will assess each case on its merit," he said.

"People just need to be truthful in their applications, explain they are returning West Australians and we will deal with them compassionately."

Mr Cook said WA would not take a punitive approach as the state wanted West Australians to be able to return. He did warn West Australians, however, not to travel to Victoria or New South Wales.

"Whenever you travel anywhere in this world in the current climate, you are at risk of a very changeable situation overtaking your travel plans and that simply is the reality of travel in 2020," Mr Cook said.

"I caution everyone who is seeking to travel interstate to just make sure that you take the very best of precautions, make sure your travel arrangements are flexible."

In a statement, Virgin Australia said it was offering customers the opportunity to rebook alternative flights with the airline at no extra cost and exchange their bookings for travel credit.

Passengers onboard Virgin's flight VA687 currently en route to Perth from Melbourne will be offered a spot on a return flight to the Victorian capital on Friday.

There have been 859 cases of COVID-19 in WA since the start of the pandemic.

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