Western Australia’s low coronavirus vaccination rate and lack of restrictions means the Delta variant will eventually spread “rapidly” through the population, Scott Morrison has warned.
The prime minister has taken aim at Mark McGowan over the WA premier’s refusal to commit to national targets for reopening the country.
Mr McGowan has declared WA won’t remove state border closures once 70 per cent of the population has been vaccinated.
“When it is safe to do so we will open the borders – when an overwhelming majority of our population has been vaccinated,” he said on Tuesday.
“We will get there – it might only be a difference of a few months – but in the meantime, it’s worth trying to keep COVID out for as long as we can, so we can vaccinate as many people as possible.”
Less than a third of eligible West Australians are fully vaccinated, while a decision to postpone hundreds of elective surgeries at overcrowded hospitals has cast doubt on the state’s capacity to handle a major virus outbreak.
The prime minister said WA needed to prepare its health system and implement “common sense” restrictions so the state could eventually live with the virus.
“If Delta were to come to Western Australia – which it eventually will, and I think the premier understands that – then it would move quite rapidly through the population,” he told Perth radio 6PR.
“So the task is to prepare.”
Mr Morrison urged West Australians to get vaccinated so they could travel internationally and reunite with loved ones.
“When you get to more than double where you are now, the level of protection is like living in another world,” he said.
“And at some point, you’ve got to step off the shore.”
West Australians have so far overwhelmingly supported border closures which have allowed them to live without local restrictions.
A lack of major outbreaks and extended lockdowns is thought to be the main factor behind WA’s lagging vaccination rate.
The month-long freeze on elective surgeries, beginning on Wednesday, will apply to non-urgent, multi-day category two and three procedures.
It is the third time during the pandemic that WA has been forced to postpone some surgeries despite having a negligible virus caseload.
Mr McGowan has partly blamed the hospital crisis on the Commonwealth, saying there were hundreds of patients occupying beds who should be managed by the NDIS or in aged care.
The prime minister said since coming to office, his administration had increased hospital funding at four times the rate of the WA government.
“Hospitals are a state responsibility and they’re getting significant funding from the federal government,” he said.
Michael Ramsey – Australian Associated Press.