WA Premier Mark McGowan has issued an ominous warning while announcing a series of changes to how his state will tackle the virus.
The quarantine period for close contacts of Covid-19 cases in Western Australia will be slashed from two weeks to seven days, while the same rules will also apply to approved interstate and international travellers.
Premier Mark McGowan announced that from Tuesday, WA would transition to “high caseload testing and isolation” guidelines.
But he warned it was not a sign the pandemic was over — rather, it was the start of the “real impact” of Omicron.
“WA is about to embark on its most challenging phase of the pandemic. For two years, WA has avoided the worst,” Mr McGowan told reporters on Monday.
“The road ahead is about to get very bumpy … we’re going to get more cases and we’re going to get them sooner.”
WA’s international arrivals cap will double to 530 people each week, while the quarantine period for all travellers will drop to seven days and they must return a negative rapid antigen test.
“Vaccinated direct international travellers will be permitted to self-quarantine at a suitable premise if they’re eligible,” Mr McGowan said.
“Unvaccinated direct international arrivals will still need to go into a hotel quarantine for 14 days.”
A close contact has been redefined as household members or intimate partners, or anyone who spends 15 minutes face-to-face with a case while not wearing a mask.
A close contact with symptoms must isolate for seven days and get a negative RAT result to leave isolation.
A close contact who is not symptomatic after one week can return to normal life without getting tested.
In a school or childcare setting, a close contact is considered anyone who has face-to-face contact for at least 15 minutes with an infectious person without wearing a mask, or interaction for more than two hours in a small indoor space without a mask.
To minimise the spread in schools, indoor face-to-face events are banned and school camps must be postponed, while timetables and pick ups or drop offs must also be tweaked where possible.
Mr McGowan noted more than 12,000 people had arrived back in WA over the weekend, with more than 3000 due on Monday.
Those people — who arrived under WA’s amended hard border regime after the February 5 reopening date was scrapped — are required to quarantine and get tested.
“It is clear we now have a higher level of community spread in WA — something we have been able to hold off since the start of the backpacker outbreak before Christmas and since the start of the pandemic two years ago,” the Premier said.
“We now have 265 active cases in WA and we can expect daily case numbers to continue to rise over the coming days.
“It is also worth remembering that with thousands of recent arrivals now in self-quarantine, it is likely the virus could leak out and spread into the community further.”
Mr McGowan said WA had done well despite some “very challenging contact tracing scenarios”, including massage businesses and nightclubs.
“With the rising case numbers, further unlinked cases and the added risk of high numbers in self-quarantine, our policy settings now need to shift,” he said.
WA recorded 26 new local cases and 10 travel-related infections overnight.
Of the new local cases, 24 are linked to close contacts, while the other two are a mystery.
They are all in quarantine now, but some were infectious in the community and contact tracers are working to determine potential public exposure sites.
It brings the state’s total number of active cases to 265, including 12 in hotel quarantine, 254 in self-quarantine and one in hospital but not in intensive care.
Mr McGowan was briefly forced into self-isolation on Sunday after visiting a Covid-19 exposure site.
A state government spokesperson said Mr McGowan later received a negative test result, which meant he was free to leave isolation.
“The Premier became aware last night that he had been at an exposure site in Rockingham and was required to get tested,” the spokesperson said on Monday.
“He attended the Rockingham Covid clinic last night. He has returned a negative test result and is therefore out of isolation.”