At 11:59PM on Sunday, for the first time in history, Western Australia will close its borders. The unprecedented statewide lockdown is the latest in a series of steadily escalating quarantine measures, as Australia endeavours to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve. Every Australian attempting to enter WA will be subject to the restrictions, regardless of their residency, as airlines receive instructions to refuse non-WA residents the right to board flights into the state.
The newly announced measures are the harshest border controls in the country.
"It won't be forever," said state premier Mark McGowan. "It's a temporary closure to make sure we limit the spread of the virus in WA." McGowan also insisted, however, that all WA residents wanting to return home should do so as soon as possible—before it’s too late.
There are exceptions to the rule, which are still being finalised. The ABC reports that certain essential travel exemptions will be put in place to allow health services, emergency services, transport and freight, national and state security, and judicial services to cross the borders—as well as anyone with a specialist skill that is not otherwise available in WA. Fly-in, fly-out workers will also be allowed to enter the state, but will be forced to self-isolate with their families for two weeks.
"If you don't come home before midnight on Sunday, you'll have to fit the criteria in order to come in," McGowan declared. "That means you'll have to meet compassionate grounds, or you have to be part of an essential service."
Regional border closures within WA are also in place, meaning anyone travelling between the state’s nine regions will need a good excuse—medical, compassionate, or work reasons, for example—to avoid a fine of up to $50,000. In the Kimberley region to the north, residents will be restricted within one of the four local government areas, in a stringent measure that aims to help protect vulnerable remote populations.
It’s not clear how long these restrictions will be in place, but McGowan has indicated that it could be as long as six months. There would have to be very good evidence that COVID-19 cases had dropped for the Government to loosen the border controls any sooner, he claimed.