CANBERRA (Australia)-While people can now travel freely in Australia’s east, COVID-19-free Western Australia will keep its strict restrictions until next year, leaders of the state said Friday.
Western Australia, which covers a third Australia's total land area, is the largest state. The state also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, due to the fact that it has experienced few infections and has maintained a relatively normal life-style throughout the pandemic.
The only Australian territory or state that has not reopened this year is Western Australia. Since Monday, when an international travel ban of 20 months was lifted, vaccinated Australians can travel freely through the east coast airports of Melbourne and Sydney.
Premier Mark McGowan of Western Australia set Friday a target for vaccination of 90% of the population 12 years and older to allow border restrictions to be eased. This milestone was expected to be achieved in late January or early Februar.
McGowan stated that he would establish a date for the state's reopening once 80% of the targeted population has been vaccinated. This is likely to occur in mid-December.
It would be valid even if the vaccine rate falls below 90% after the reopening date.
McGowan stated, "A rate of 90% is an incredible achievement by world standards."
He said, "Given current vaccination rates these targets are realistic. They are within our sights."
According to state data, only 63.7% were fully vaccinated in Western Australia. According to Friday's federal data, 79.6% were fully vaccinated in Australia, with the exception of those aged 16 or older.
Others states are planning or have plans to significantly relax pandemic restrictions, once at least 80% of their population is vaccinated.
McGowan stated that parts of the state might be separated by intrastate borders if they continue to have low vaccination rates. These areas include the Pilbara region, where lucrative iron ore mining operations are located.
McGowan stated, "Cutting off Pilbara or any other region for that matter is not something that I want to do."
He said, "But if it's necessary to protect the local communities and local industries then we will take those steps based on the current health advice."
McGowan stated that government modeling had shown that if the state was reopened at the 90% vaccination benchmark instead of 80%, COVID-19 patients would be able to occupy 70% fewer hospitals beds, 75% fewer intensive care beds, and 63% fewer death.
McGowan stated that 200 West Australian lives could be saved by easing border controls at 90% instead of 80%.
McGowan stated that if the state fails to vaccinate the additional 250,000 people to achieve the 90% target, then additional pandemic measures may be necessary on the date the state reopens.
Only nine of Australia's 1,781 COVID-19-related deaths have been attributed to Western Australia.
Four of the victims were crew and passengers from the German-operated cruise vessel MV Artania, who were brought ashore to receive treatment in Perth. In April 2020, the state reported its last COVID-19-related death.