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WA premier ‘caught out’ on border closures

Western Australia’s premier has been accused of keeping the borders closed for political gain after the state’s chief health officer suggested the risk of allowing some travel had “substantially decreased” with a fall in COVID-19 cases.

In evidence before a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, Andy Robertson said he was open to considering travel bubbles with other jurisdictions that had also gone at least 28 days without community spread.

All states and territories besides NSW and Victoria had now met that benchmark, he told state parliament’s Education and Health Standing Committee.

Dr Robertson also said he was generally satisfied with other states’ border arrangements, contradicting Premier Mark McGowan’s claim a fortnight earlier that he had been advised “their borders are not as strong as ours”.

“The premier’s been caught out by his chief health officer,” opposition health spokesman and committee member Zak Kirkup said.

“I think he’s motivated by fear, ensuring that West Australians feel scared, and that’s what the border arrangements have been based on.”

Speaking in parliament, Mr McGowan maintained that Dr Robertson had “expressed concern” about other states’ border arrangements.

“Once again the Liberal Party is undermining the efforts of this government to protect the health of West Australians,” he said.

Dr Robertson earlier said he remained concerned about WA’s susceptibility to the virus because restrictions on physical distancing had largely been removed.

He was quizzed on whether the restrictions had made it impossible for WA to open its borders.

But committee chair and Labor government MP Janine Freeman interjected, saying: “You don’t have to answer that.”

Dr Robertson conceded there may be other elements to consider for the government besides the health advice despite Mr McGowan’s stance that the health advice has been the only factor keeping the borders closed.

“I think it is a tightrope that we’re walking,” he said.

“Obviously as other jurisdictions have got (outbreaks) under control, there’s a lot less cases, the risk has substantially decreased.”

He highlighted that people in NSW were free to enter lower-risk states such as South Australia.

“We need to have a better understanding of where the epidemiology is going in NSW and Victoria, whether it continues to fall,” he said.

He also declared it was achievable for all states and territories to achieve 28 days with no community spread by Christmas.

“Victoria is probably the one that will be the last to achieve that. But it is doable and it’s probably a couple of months away,” he said.

Polls suggest the border closures have largely been popular within WA.

Dr Robertson said WA Health continued to look at what exemptions could be introduced for business groups and West Australians separated from their loved ones, who remain desperate for clarity on the border situation.

WA has 19 active cases after a woman in her 20s tested positive in hotel quarantine upon returning from England.

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