What Really Triggered WA’s “Close Contact” Changes

Under mounting pressure from major industry groups, schools, health care worker lobbies and the state media, Mr. McGowan took advantage of his government’s vague definitions to pull the trigger on a transition.

The Prime Minister said emphatically on Monday that the changes were not happening due to community pressure, despite the fact that hundreds of pupils and teachers and their families had to spend 14 days in self-isolation when several schools have recorded cases. Several mining sites had also been affected by COVID-19 in recent weeks.

Mr McGowan pointed to how WA went from nine community cases from January 28 to January 26 on Monday to justify the change.

“It’s a 150% increase,” he said. “On top of that we had a number of people who came over the weekend [because of a February 5 easing of state entry requirements].

“There are therefore 10,000 people passing through the airport, 2,000 others through the road border.


“While these people are required to self-quarantine – they will be monitored by a G2G pass, they will have testing and other requirements on them – we expect there will be leaks of this.

“Opening ourselves up to more risk means the virus will spread faster; given our low case numbers for so long, this may come as a shock to some people.

The rise in cases from nine to 26 is not why WA introduced the rules, although 22 cases were recorded on January 29 and cases fell to 13 on Tuesday.

And health officials have not detailed any further “leaks” of self-isolating arrivals, even though thousands of people have been doing so safely for more than a month.

Despite Mr McGowan’s protests the change in close contact was not prompted by community pressure, Dr Robertson, in his February 6 health advice to the Prime Minister, made it clear that the old rules n were more applicable and something had to give.

“Given the increasing number of WA cases, especially in large wards, the number of people who need to quarantine as close or casual contacts is now disproportionate to the risk,” he said. .

“A change to the quarantine period will foster confidence within the community and industry that WA is moving towards a transition to ‘living with COVID’ and should improve public engagement and trust.

“This will have great benefits for the industry by allowing workers who have traveled to WA to start their jobs earlier.”

Dr Robertson also wrote that the community would be more willing to cooperate with contact tracing efforts with less onerous quarantine requirements.

He cited several studies and noted how a recent survey by the Federal Department of Health found that only 6% of the 1,382 cases of COVID-19 that entered Australia, over an unknown period, tested positive for the first time. after seven days of quarantine.

Studies have emerged since January indicating that Omicron only took three days to incubate.

Why the government didn’t go ahead with the rule change sooner is a bit of a puzzle.

Australian Medical Association WA President Mark Duncan-Smith, who has been one of many voices calling for reduced periods of isolation for close contacts, said science has already underlined the need for a seven-day quarantine rather than keeping people locked up unnecessarily. at the top.

“It makes for an incongruous policy that sort of approaches bureaucratic hypocrisy when you punish children with a week of unnecessary isolation but still have nightclubs open,” he said.

Dr. Robertson said at Monday’s press conference that the state has been successful in suppressing Omicron so far with the rules it has, but regardless of that fact, the increase in cases will increase exponentially very soon and in a few days.

“Nobody notices the doubling at first,” he said.

“But if you look at the numbers, unfortunately more and more of these cases are locally acquired, more and more of these cases are unrelated, so we expect in the next few days that our numbers will start to double.

“You’ll notice we’ll be going from 36 to 72 to 100. So we’re looking at that and putting those measures in preemptively as we expect to get those increases in the next few days.”

There are still 27 cases under investigation for their source, but these are not considered ‘mystery cases’ as contact tracers have an idea of ​​where they may have caught the virus from.

But Dr Robertson said it wouldn’t be long before contact tracers weren’t able to find every exposure site an infected person had been to.

The chief health officer says it is now best to recalibrate the system to focus on tracing contacts who were most at risk of contracting the disease.

The AMA WA and state opposition have called for a new reopening date, but Dr Robertson did not say when exactly a review, which is expected to take place within four weeks from January 20, would take place. actually take place.

Dr Robertson would not be determined whether the rapid uptake of booster shots – with 45% of over-18s getting triple shots, around 10% more than the health director estimated the state would be in early February – meant the state could open before winter.

WA could theoretically have around 80% of the triple of more than 16 cohorts bitten around March 13, but authorities say they are not simply linking an opening to vaccination rates.

The government also won’t say when tougher restrictions will be introduced, although it said similar measures in South Australia will come with fewer cases than that state brought them to.

But judging by how quickly WA stopped holding its boundary and introducing new contact protocols, it probably won’t be long.

Mr McGowan has tried to bring home the number of deaths in other states lately, but on Monday he also told WA not to panic.


“Western Australians should take a higher workload seriously, but that is not cause for panic. Not at all,” he said.

“We prepared for this, keep going, keep working, support your local businesses.

“Be reasonable and be careful. If you are sick, stay home and get tested. Register on the sites and check the exhibition sites. Wear your mask and, if you haven’t already, get vaccinated for the third time.

“We can minimize the disruption, I am determined not to make the mistakes that other states and other countries have made.”

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