COVID-19 in WA: Masks are back as Omicron spreads in WA
Masks are back as Premier Mark McGowan pushes the alarm button, warning West Australians the highly-infectious Omicron strain of COVID-19 has started its insidious — and potentially unstoppable — spread through the community.
Announcing the reintroduction of masks at an emergency press conference on Sunday, Mr McGowan revealed a concerning surge in cases linked to two massage businesses which had not insisted on clients checking in via the SafeWA app.
And Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson revealed chief health officer Dr Andy Robertson was concerned they may not be able to get on top of the outbreak.
“In light of the growing number of cases in WA, today we are raising the alarm,” Mr McGowan said.
“We need everyone in Perth and Peel to take the situation very seriously. We now have some community spread of Omicron in Perth. We know it spreads fast and easily.”
Five new COVID cases have emerged in the past two days, with four of those infectious while working at U Natural Spa Therapy in Applecross.
Anyone who visited the massage business in the past week is required to self-quarantine for 14 days from their time of exposure, even if they test negative.
“This is a site of significant concern,” Mr McGowan said. “There are now five local cases directly linked to this Applecross business, and I implore anyone who has visited this business between January 7 and 13 to please come forward and get tested immediately.”
“Do not hesitate, do not assume you are fine because you have no symptoms. You must go and get tested.”
“What we know from the Omicron experience over East, is that you can be carrying the virus with you and have no symptoms.”
Another massage business — New U Massage in Mt Lawley — has also been named as an exposure site because one of the affected workers had worked there while infectious.
Anyone who visited the Mt Lawley establishment last Monday, January 10, should get tested and isolate for two weeks.
The fifth case, linked to a Hyatt hotel security guard, was not believed to have been in the community while infectious.
WA Health is currently managing 112 active cases of COVID-19 in WA. Of those, 34 are in hotel quarantine and 78 in self-quarantine.
“There are now 81 confirmed cases with the Omicron variant,” Mr McGowan said. “It’s clear the number of cases of the Omicron variant is growing, and so is the risk to the community.”
In just the past seven days, he said, WA had recorded 18 local cases of Omicron, including exposure sites in Midland, Northbridge, Victoria Park, West Swan, Cannington, Applecross, Mt Lawley and Jandakot.
“This (outbreak) is concerning because it’s the Omicron variant, and it’s been prevalent in businesses where people interact closely,” he said.
Health authorities believe one of the massage business employees contracted Omicron when they visited a shop at the same time as a positive case, who became infected earlier this month when they drove a returned traveller from Tasmania from Perth Airport to home quarantine. That case seeded a cluster in the Cockburn area.
Mr McGowan said WA had to be vigilant, as other States were racking up case numbers in the tens of thousands.
“The spread of Omicron is serious and requires a serious response,” he said.
From 6pm on Sunday, face masks became compulsory at all public indoor venues in Perth and Peel — except for those doing vigorous indoor exercise, or children under 12. Travellers from Perth and Peel to other regions must also wear masks.
Opening hours for public testing clinics have been extended to 10pm. As well as wearing masks, people will still be required to show proof of vaccination when entering hospitality venues.
Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson urged more people to front up for COVID testing, after only 1,329 presented themselves at public clinics on Saturday.
“We need to do much better than this,” she said. “We now have Omicron in our community and we cannot afford to be complacent. There is a serious concern from the chief health officer that we will not be able to get on top of this Cockburn cluster.”
Ms Sanderson said only 11 people had used the SafeWA app to check into the business at the centre of the outbreak, but with many more having visited it since January 6, it was likely there would be more cases.
“We have fought off this virus in WA so far, but we know that Omicron is the real game-changer,” she said. “We have seen how quickly the Omicron variant takes hold, once it enters the community.”
Mr McGowan said WA Police would be working with the massage businesses to try to find out who else had attended during the exposure times, but he did not expect anyone would be charged or fined.
“The main focus is not on penalties,” he said. “We just want people to go and get themselves tested.”
WA’s borders are scheduled to re-open to the rest of Australia — and the virus — on February 5.
But Mr McGowan said the aim was still to limit community spread of COVID until then, to allow the State to reach high vaccination levels of 90 per cent double-dosed for people aged 12 and over.
“What we’ve seen in other states is the ‘let it rip’ strategy has been a mistake,” he said.
Meanwhile, a Mundaring beauty salon announced its temporary closure after its owner tested positive to the virus following a visit by a confirmed case on Thursday.
Soul Garden Holistic Beauty salon owner Fleur McKinlay said she felt like she had a bad cold and was “a bit achy”.
“Our clients use hand sanitiser when they come in, they sign in with their app,” Ms McKinlay said. “Sometimes people forget but we keep a record of everyone.”
“Two of our staff have come back negative, I’ve obviously come back positive, and all of our clients are undergoing testing and isolating.”
Shadow health minister Libby Mettam said the McGowan Government had failed to provide clear advice on what workers could expect from its plan to re-open the borders.
“While the Premier is raising the alarm regarding these COVID cases it’s extraordinary we are not seeing this same level of concern or urgency in vital information for health workers and small businesses for the McGowan Government’s planned border opening in a couple of weeks,” she said.
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