Western Australia could be just weeks away from finally reopening its borders as the state takes another tentative step towards living with COVID-19.
The quarantine period for positive cases and their close contacts has been halved from 14 days to seven under a change that came into effect overnight.
Close contacts must return a negative rapid antigen test before leaving quarantine.
The new policy also applies to anyone currently in self-quarantine, including about 12,000 people who arrived over the weekend under a softening of hard border rules which has allowed more people to reunite with families.
It comes after WA on Monday recorded 26 new local Omicron cases, including some who were infectious while in the community.
Premier Mark McGowan and Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said no decision had been made on when the borders would fully reopen.
But the easing of quarantine rules and entry requirements, along with a rapidly rising third-dose vaccination rate, suggests the reopening is unlikely to be far away.
WA’s booster rate is currently at 44 per cent and is on course to be well above 80 per cent by early-March if the current take-up is sustained.
In written advice to the premier last month, Dr Robertson said the government would need to weigh up overall booster coverage against the waning of protection among more vulnerable people from around the end of March.
Dr Robertson added that hospital bed occupancy was typically at its best between February and April.
He also warned of the potential impact on the health system if WA’s Omicron outbreak were to peak during the winter flu season.
Another key consideration is health workforce shortages which Dr Robertson said were unlikely to be resolved until the borders reopened.
In his latest advice to the premier, the chief health officer said changes to quarantine periods would highlight the benefits of getting vaccinated and promote confidence that WA is “moving towards a transition to living with COVID”.
Mr McGowan on Monday warned that WA was about to embark on its most challenging phase of the pandemic.
He had faced growing pressure to bring WA’s quarantine rules in line with the rest of the nation after the virus spread to the powerful mining sector and eight schools, plunging hundreds of students and teachers into isolation.