WA mask mandate extended in wake of growing backpacker COVID-19 cluster

WA mask mandate extended in wake of growing backpacker COVID-19 cluster

Western Australians will be required to continue to wear masks indoors until at least Friday,

Western Australians will be required to continue to wear masks indoors until at least Friday, as the state records another two cases believed to be linked to an ongoing Delta outbreak.

The new cases are a 20-year-old unvaccinated male backpacker and his 24-year-old vaccinated female housemate.

Both cases are believed to be linked to the current Delta outbreak and were infectious in the community.

Aldi in Cannington has now been identified as an exposure site, with more sites expected to be named.

Masks remain, proof of vaccination expanded

From 6:00am Tuesday, public health restrictions around seated consumption and dancing will be lifted as planned.

But due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, indoor mask requirements will remain in place until at least 6:00pm on Friday.

“This is obviously a great relief to venues, artists, and suppliers, as well as anyone who missed out on a dance on New Year’s Eve,” Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said.

Punters at the Perth Cup NYE celebrations were required to show proof of being double vaccinated. (ABC News: Keane Bourke)

She said following a successful trial at the Perth Cup, proof of vaccination requirements would be expanded to ‘high-risk venues and events’ from 6:00am Tuesday.

Proof of vaccination will be required at all venues and events with a capacity of more than 500 people. 

Ms Sanderson said if a patron tries to “sneak in” to an event, they could face an on-the-spot fine or potentially imprisonment, with venues also required to take reasonable steps to ensure patrons are vaccinated.

A woman hands over her ID and proof of vaccine on her iPhone to a security guard
Proof of having had a COVID-19 vaccination will now be a requirement to enter many venues and events in WA.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“Anyone, venue or patron, flagrantly flouting the laws will face the consequences,” she said.

“This is the best way we can ensure these high-risk venues and events are safe.”

The Health Minister encouraged West Australians to sort their proof of vaccination as soon as possible, rather than doing it in line at an event in the future.

People will be able to show proof of vaccination in digital or paper form, along with suitable ID.

Three young men sit together wearing masks at a horseracing event
The Perth Cup on January 1 marked a new chapter for the way large events are run in WA.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

The quickest way to obtain the documents is to download your COVID-19 digital certificate and immunisation history statement using your Medicare online account, Express Plus Medicare mobile app, or My Health record.

This certificate can be added to wallet apps on your mobile device.

If you cannot get proof online, your vaccination provider, such as a GP or pharmacist, can print the immunisation history statement.

Guard case could be first sign of Omicron

Ms Sanderson said with a low caseload, high vaccination rate and strong public health measures in place, she was confident WA would remain in control of its current COVID situation.

There are still 23 close contacts and 219 casual contacts to be tested stemming from the Delta outbreak, with the government considering a pop-up testing clinic at a backpacker hostel.

Police officers in masks walking through Northbridge.
Perth spent New Year’s Eve subject to a mask mandate and COVID-19 restrictions.(ABC News: Kenith Png)

Meanwhile, Ms Sanderson said 14 close contacts and 27 casual contacts had been identified from the COVID-positive quarantine hotel guard.

“Investigations are continuing into how the infection occurred — at present, there’s no evidence to suggest any PPE breach on behalf of the guard,” she said.

Genomic sequencing results are expected on Tuesday night.

“We have to expect this could be the first sign of Omicron in our community,” Ms Sanderson said.

A low angle of the Pan Pacific hotel in Perth with a blue sky background, in the fore is a St sign
The security guard who tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday was working at the Pan Pacific hotel.(ABC News: James Carmody)

Ms Sanderson said the security guard had been working between a number of floors at the Pan Pacific Hotel.

She said there were people at the hotel who had tested positive to Omicron, and that there had been some minor safety breaches from guests, involving “opening doors, sticking your head out, that sort of stuff”.

Acting Chief Health Officer Paul Armstrong said there may be more people in the community infected with COVID-19.

“There’s two pairs of people in that backpacker cluster that we cannot get direct linkage to with any of the other cases,” he said.

“That gives us some cause for concern, and we think they may well be one or more people out there that are still infected.”

Three men wearing masks lean on a while watching NYE celebrations
Three men wear masks while watching New Year’s Eve celebrations in Perth.(ABC News: Kenith Png)

Dr Armstrong said while there was a connection between the groups — they are in the same community and know close or casual contacts — authorities do not have the “smoking gun”.

3,423 people were tested for COVID-19 in WA yesterday.

Venues welcome eased restrictions

Windsor Hotel manager Max Fox-Andrews said the eased restrictions on dancing and seated service were fantastic news.

“It’s been a very quiet and weird past two weeks at the hotel,” he said.

“No dancing equals no fun, equals no entertainment, equals less employees, which means we’ve really had to cut down on our wages — the pub’s been a shadow of itself.”

A man wearing a checkered shirt stands in front of a bar
Max Fox-Andrews said he was relieved the decision was made to relax COVID-19 restrictions on hospitality venues.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

Mr Fox-Andrews said the next step was making sure they could be compliant with proof of vaccination rules.

“We were ready for it, we knew it was coming, and we welcome it,” he said.

“It’s the pathway out of this for everyone involved.”

Mixed opinions on mask mandate

On the streets of Scarborough, the changing restrictions brought mixed opinions — particularly masks.

People walk along a beachside street, some wearing masks
People enjoy their sunny public holiday at the Scarborough Beach foreshore.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

“It’s hot, it’s difficult, it’s tricky, but you’ve got to do it — we’re really lucky that all we have to do is wear masks,” said Gail Wittich.

“I’m really confident the West Australian government is making science-based decisions.”

A woman in a hat and red shirt poses for a photo at a beach
Gail Wittich said having to wear a mask indoors was a simple concession to make.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

Jade Rich said she did not feel masks were a big deal at this point.

“I think everyone’s used to it by now … they’re doing it for the greater good,” she said.

A woman with sunglasses hugs a child wearing a colourful bucket hat
Jade Rich does not think wearing a mask indoors is a big deal.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

But some asked why the restrictions continued despite high vaccination levels.

“If we’re all vaccinated, why do we have to wear [masks]?” said Tracy Vidich.

Matt Dimo said every restriction should be eased.

“If you’re double-vaxxed, I don’t understand why people are being held back,” he said.

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