People travelling from Sydney to Perth Thursday afternoon were on the receiving end of some shock news on-board as WA changed its quarantine rules for NSW visitors mid-flight.
NSW travellers to WA are now required to self-quarantine under changes that have immediately come into effect following a COVID-19 outbreak in the eastern state.
A cluster in Sydney’s Northern Beaches has now ballooned to 17 cases, prompting WA Premier Mark McGowan to announce the changes on Thursday afternoon.
Effective immediately, anyone who has arrived from NSW since December 11, or was in NSW from December 11 and subsequently arrived in WA, must self-quarantine as soon as possible.
Those people must present for a COVID-19 test in the next 24 hours and will then need to return to self-quarantine until a negative test result is confirmed.
Anyone arriving from Sydney Airport or from another Australian airport having been in NSW on or after December 11 must take a test at Perth Airport on arrival or at another COVID-19 clinic within 24 hours.
They must follow the same self-quarantine requirement until a negative test result is confirmed.
Those who have arrived from NSW after December 11 will be contacted by police.
“These are extra precautionary and immediate steps the state government is taking to protect all Western Australians, based on our expert health advice,” Mr McGowan said.
Footage shared on Twitter by ABC journalist Bridget Fitzgerald shows the moment police informed passengers they would be required to self-quarantine.
Authorities boarded the flight soon after landing in Perth and informed passengers of “changes” to legislation while they were in the air.
“Unfortunately while your aircraft has been in the air, there have been some changes to legislation in relation to quarantining,” he informs the packed-flight.
WA’s chief health officer Andy Robertson is in close contact with NSW Health and will provide a further update within the next 48 hours to determine if further changes are required.
“As I have said previously, we will not hesitate to change our border controls if the health advice recommends,” Mr McGowan said.
“I understand these changes will cause some frustration and uncertainty for some people.
“We ask for your patience and understanding as we take these steps to protect the health of all Western Australians.”
The first case was an aircrew van driver who lives in southern Sydney followed by two cases in the Northern Beaches that were confirmed on Wednesday.
Since then, a cluster on Sydney’s Northern Beaches has grown to 17 cases with residents in that area told to stay home.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr McGowan told reporters he would put the hard border back in place immediately if that was the health advice.
“Whilst that might be upsetting for people, we’ll do what we have to do to keep having a great record in WA and keep the health and welfare of West Australians paramount,” he said.
“I’m very sympathetic to people who want to visit family and catch up with parents and children over the course of the Christmas period.
“It’s been a long year and we know that many people are excited.”
Mr McGowan said he had received initial advice that one of the cases confirmed on Wednesday had a test but didn’t quarantine while awaiting the result, which was “unacceptable conduct”.
“These sorts of things are the threat vector to Australia,” he said.
Before the self-quarantine requirement was announced, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “Mark’s a cautious guy” but he would make decisions based on advice.
“I know there are lots of people looking to reunite with their Western Australian families over Christmas,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
“They wouldn’t want to be seeing those plans disrupted, and I’m sure the Premier is very conscious of that.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said no one wanted to see borders closed, but the states were filling a leadership void created by the Prime Minister.
“It’s been left to the state premiers,” Mr Albanese said.
“I don’t think you can do that on the one hand and then be critical of decisions that they’ve made on the other.”
Mr McGowan said WA had set a world record of 250 days without a case of community transmission.
“Nowhere else in the world can say that,” the Premier said.
“It has now resulted in outstanding economic outcomes for our state.
“I just want to keep that record in place.”