Western Australia has recorded its fifth consecutive day with no new cases of coronavirus, WA Health Minister Roger Cook has confirmed.
- The low numbers pointed to “no sustained community transmission”
- Community restrictions could be reviewed as early as Friday
- But there are three principles that will determine if businesses reopen
A total of 527 people have recovered from the virus, leaving WA with only 15 active cases across the state.
Of these only two are outside the metropolitan area, in the Goldfields.
Just seven patients remain in WA hospitals, with three of those in intensive care.
Mr Cook said it had been more than three weeks since Western Australia reported a locally acquired COVID-19 infection that could not be traced from a known contact or overseas travel.
The last such case was recorded back on April 12.
Restrictions to be reviewed on Friday
The State Government flagged it would review restrictions currently in place in the state following a meeting of the national cabinet on Friday.
Mr Cook said the run of days where the state had recorded zero cases was “extremely encouraging” and “certainly made a Government feel more courageous in terms of its determination”.
But Mr Cook said any changes — if they happened at all — would be gradual and they would “first and foremost” be guided by medical advice from the Chief Medical Officer and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).
“I think we will see some modest changes in the sense that we don’t want to do too much, because then if we do get a blowout in numbers, we’ll have to try to put the restrictions back on,” he said.
“We don’t want to let the genie out of the bottle.”
Mr Cook has previously indicated good economic outcomes would be one of three major principles considered when the Government reviewed which restrictions to loosen.
But Mr Cook said people should not make any major assumptions about bars, restaurants or other businesses being likely to reopen after Friday.
“As the Premier has said, we want to really look at those things that can provide a benefit to the economy and we’re having those discussions with the Chief Health Officer because, ultimately, we will be guided by his advice,” Mr Cook said.
“Obviously we’ve all got an ambition to get people back to work, but to do so safely.
“We want to bring people back to work, but we will only do so on medical advice.”
The two other principles were whether the activity posed a low public health risk, and whether it had positive social and emotional wellbeing outcomes.
Mr Cook said the capacity to continue testing and monitoring cases in the state was also key and he encouraged people to download the Commonwealth Government’s COVIDSafe app.
City businesses see glimmer of hope
Some businesses in the Perth CBD were cautiously optimistic about the future.
Mo Espresso owner Zac Barrett said he was using this week to gauge if foot traffic in the city had increased.
Mr Barrett owns several cafes in Perth and said his suburban stores had reported a slight downturn today, which indicated to him people were returning to office work.
But despite this glimmer of hope, Mr Barrett said business was still only 10 per cent of what it was before coronavirus restrictions.
Intrastate restrictions will lift before interstate borders
Mr Cook said while travel was an important component of the state’s economic prosperity, “the closure of the borders had been a key weapon in maintaining control of the pandemic for Western Australia”.
“Any decision around reopening borders obviously will be taken very carefully and will be some time into the future,” he said.
Mr Cook said a recent cluster of COVID-19 cases at a meat processing plant in Victoria was a “serious reminder that we cannot become complacent”.
“If we do, we might see clusters like this pop up in Western Australia and we’ll obviously have to respond, and respond quickly,” he said.
He said how interstate authorities dealt with such emerging situations would guide decision making around WA’s border closure.
“Obviously if we are to open the borders to each of the states, we have to have confidence about the control regimes,” Mr Cook said.
Passenger restrictions deliver financial blow to airport
The impact of the border closures on Perth Airport has been made clear with new data that shows a dramatic drop in activity, with the loss of more than one million passengers last month.
The number of international and interstate travellers passing through the airport plunged by 97 per cent, to 24,000 for the entire month of April.
Perth Airport would usually see greater numbers of travellers in a single day during normal service.
“Our passenger numbers and revenue have simply fallen off a cliff,” chief executive Kevin Brown said.
Two of the five terminals at the airport remain open mostly to service WA’s fly-in, fly-out mining industry, which is accounting for about 95 per cent of activity at the airport.
Mr Brown said there was considerable cost involved in maintaining the airport, even with much of it closed.
Perth Airport also remains locked in a legal battle with Qantas over fees and claimed Virgin Australia owed it $16.5 million when it entered administration.
Mr Brown said that even when the borders reopened he expected the recovery of the aviation industry to be very slow.
He said plans for a new runway and major reconfiguration of the terminals could be set back by several years.
COVID clinics here to stay
Mr Cook said COVID-19 testing clinics opened by the Government at seven sites across the Perth metropolitan area, as well as in Bunbury and Broome, would remain open for the foreseeable future.
He said there had been an uptick in testing numbers in the past week.
WA has so far carried out 47,029 tests, including 8,347 tests in regional areas.
Mr Cook said of 4,890 of those were from private laboratories, while 2,048 were from industry screening of fly-in, fly-out workers.
“On weekends we tend to have lower numbers, but even they have been higher than on previous weekend,” Mr Cook said.
“So I think people are getting the message: If you have a respiratory illness, if you have a fever or a history of fever, go to your COVID clinic because we want to make sure that everyone who is symptomatic gets tested.”
Mr Cook said it was unfortunate to hear reports some people were facing 90-minute waits outside the COVID clinics, but he said people could also get a referral for testing at a private pathology lab from their GP.
Winter impact on COVID-19 infection rates is unclear
Mr Cook said it was not known whether a winter season was something that would increase the virility of the virus.
But he urged people to take care of themselves during this time.
“We do know if people have a secondary infection … it makes them more vulnerable,” Mr Cook said.
“We know that this disease preys upon the vulnerable and those with existing conditions, so we have to look after ourselves this winter.
“Make sure you get the flu jab.”