Western Australia, a state of Australia covering an area half the size of Europe – of more than 2.5 million square kilometres – will see its workers return to their offices, factories and mining jobs on Monday with schools having returned at the beginning of their second term.
Western Australia, which has a population of 2.6 million people and branded is as Australia’s sunniest capital city, has one person in hospital from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Western Australia has recorded 557 cases of COVID-19, five of which remain active. The state is the size of Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands and the UK combined. The UK alone has had more than 243,000 confirmed cases of infection, Belgium more than 52,000 and the Netherlands almost 44,000.
So what did Western Australia do that many countries and states around the world failed to?
Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan imposed 10 borders within the state as well as blocking all access into and out of the state. He is now reducing the internal borders to four to allow the population greater movement but no-one is allowed to enter Western Australia. McGowan has doubled the number of people allowed at non-work gatherings — more than any other state in Australia.
This is our WA COVID-19 update for Sunday, 17 May 2020.
— Mark McGowan (@MarkMcGowanMP) May 17, 2020
“Western Australians are encouraged to return to work, unless they are unwell or vulnerable,” said the Western Australia Government in a statement.
Many WA businesses are getting ready to reopen tomorrow – which is great news for all of us who are ready for one of these. pic.twitter.com/4ClYqD6Dh7
— Mark McGowan (@MarkMcGowanMP) May 17, 2020
Businesses that can reopen include:
- cafés and restaurants with meal service, including within pubs, bars, clubs, hotels and the casino
- outdoor or indoor fitness classes with minimal shared equipment, such as yoga, Pilates, boot camp, gymnastics and dance
- public pools (1 indoor and 1 outdoor) with strict rules
- non-contact community sport
- places of worship, community facilities and libraries
- weddings and funerals (up to 30 attendees outside)
Western Australia has instigated a rigorous testing program, testing throughout the community including those who show few or no symptoms in order to determine whether positive cases are going undetected. The Western Australia Government is partnering with Telethon Kids Institute to learn more about undetected COVID-19 infection among school students and staff without symptoms. A total of 65,698 tests have been taken with more than 1,000 a day.
All businesses opening on Monday are required to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 and complete and display a COVID Safety Plan Certificate in a visible location on the premises.
A number of businesses have indicated they will not return all their employees on Monday, while some are examining how they will implement social distancing rules in shared spaces.
Safety Australia Group managing director Robert Keft said he was advising his clients to transition their employees back over weeks or months, rather than adopting an immediate return for everyone.
“One of the threats we have from a work health and safety perspective is that employers will be, I think, anxious to get back to operating as normal,” he told ABC.
Accountancy firm Grant Thornton is of the view there was no need to rush back to the office on Monday.
“What we’ve found is that during the past seven weeks we’ve had over 90% of our people working efficiently and effectively on a remote basis, and we’ve been able to deliver and meet our client expectations over that period,” said Grant Thornton’s Perth partner David Hodgson.
“The corner piece to when we will come back is really the mental and physical wellbeing of our people, and we’ll make decisions as we go.
“As a national organisation, we’re coming up with a set of guiding principles which will allow the states a progressive basis to come back when they feel it’s appropriate to do so.”
McGovern realises that stance is not the norm.
“I know there is pent-up demand and lots of local customers willing to get out there and support their local businesses, and from tomorrow people can,” he said from the Pink Duck Beach Bar & Bistro at Rockingham, south of the capital city Perth.
“From tomorrow, one of the best things we can do is support each other through this pandemic and return to our favourite local cafe or restaurant, and resume our sport and recreation as well, and help get businesses back to work and back into operations,” Mr McGowan said.