Prime Minister Scott Morrison says lockdowns and borders are not a sign of success and states relying on such measures should look to New South Wales as the “gold standard” when it comes to pandemic responses.
Mr Morrison called for contact-tracing capabilities to be better integrated across the nation at a press conference on Monday.
He said the NSW government was happy to drop borders because it was confident in its ability to contain the virus.
Western Australia could become a victim of its own success, he said, with states needing their contact tracing capability to remain “match-fit”, but where there were no cases of the disease, there was not a lot to trace.
Mr Morrison said if there was an outbreak, states would want to be confident their COVID-19 testing regime was strong enough, and that the contact tracing capability would be able to move quickly.
“I think there is a lot to learn from what is happening in NSW because they have frankly had the largest risks to deal with and they have demonstrated the best capacity to deal with them and keep their state open at the same time,” he said.
“They are the direction I’m strongly urging the country to go in, because Australia being shut is not success, Australia being open is success, and you are only going to achieve that … if you have a strong integrated tracing capability and ultimately you set Australia up with a sovereign capability to deliver a vaccine.”
Mr Morrison pointed to the latest common operating picture report, which showed WA’s testing rate was the lowest in the country, though he welcomed the rate had “come up a bit” in the two weeks since the previous report.
Federal health department boss Brendan Murphy also questioned whether other states would be ready to respond fast enough in the case of an outbreak.
WA Liberal MP Ben Morton agreed only a strong public health response, not the hard border itself, would save WA in case of an outbreak.
However Mr Morton, who is the Assistant Minister to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, told 6PR’s Mornings WA Premier Mark McGowan had the support of the federal government to keep hard border arrangements in place as the state’s situation was unique.
On Friday, WA announced it would go its own way on pandemic policy, refusing to join an agreement between the nation’s other states and territories to open up their borders by December.
The rest of the country would work towards a “hotspot model” to combat COVID-19 while WA would keep its border closed to the rest of the nation.
“I do worry — and this isn’t a criticism of the WA government— that we do put too much faith into the hard border. It won’t be the border that will reduce spread of the virus if there is an outbreak in WA, it’s a very strong public health response, it is a very strong testing regime and tracking and tracing regime,” Mr Morton said.
He said the state should start sewerage testing for the virus, as was happening in other states, to put WA on the front foot should an outbreak happen, and keep contact registration in restaurants.
Daile Cross manages the WAtoday newsroom.
Fran is the editor of WAtoday