Very low vaccination rate in Western Australia's Pilbara region at centre of virus scare

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Authorities believe the man picked up the virus at the airport. Picture: Daniel WilkinsSource:News Corp Australia

A region in Western Australia’s north at the centre of a Covid-19 scare has a shockingly low vaccination rate, sparking fears about the vulnerability of people in rural areas.

There are growing concerns after it was revealed a fly-in, fly-out worker had returned a “weak positive” for the virus and might have been infectious in the community, including while working at the Fortescue Metals Group Cloudbreak iron ore mine site.

Premier Mark McGowan told reporters on Thursday that WA had recorded no new local cases overnight, with the Greenwood man’s closest contacts returning negative results.

In addition to his girlfriend, his housemate and three “very close” workmates had tested negative.

But there are worrying signs about vaccination rates in rural and remote areas in the huge state.

See all newsletters, August 5, 2021, here

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan says the latest virus scare is an unusual case. Picture: Matt Jelonek/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

According to federal data, just 8.6 per cent of people over the age of 15 are fully vaccinated against the virus in WA’s northern outback.

By comparison, WA’s southern outback has a vaccination rate of 13.3 per cent and inner Perth has a vaccination rate of 25.5 per cent.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said he was concerned about vaccination rates in some parts of WA, including in the Pilbara where the FIFO worker spent one week.

“WA Country Health Service have got over 90 locations across regional WA, plus some fly-in, fly-out teams to bolster those people,” he told reporters.

“Our vaccination rates, particularly in places like the Wheatbelt, Great Southern and the South West (regions) are comparable with those in the metropolitan area.

“My bigger concern is with regards to the Pilbara and the Kimberley — we’ve got lower penetration of those vaccination numbers and I’ll be asking the WA Country Health Service to look at those regions in particular to see what other measures we need to put in place.”

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On Wednesday, more than 16,000 jabs were administered in WA, including more than 9000 second doses.

As of 11am this morning, with 7,092 tests conducted yesterday, I can confirm we have recorded zero new local cases since the weak positive case reported late yesterday.

— Mark McGowan (@MarkMcGowanMP) August 5, 2021

There are 83 close contacts of the FIFO worker who must get tested and isolate for 14 days, and most of them are from the mine site.

A further 554 casual contacts have been identified, and Mr McGowan said he expected the number to grow.

More than 7000 people were tested on Wednesday, and the Premier urged people to keep checking the list of public exposure sites.

“This is an unusual case, but we are taking it very seriously,” Mr McGowan said.

The good news means WA will likely avoid having to go into another lockdown, but Mr McGowan warned people against complacency.

“We don’t want to see our hard work undone,” he said.

“While the news so far is encouraging, we still need to follow the health advice.

“We’re not out of the woods yet.”

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More than 7000 people were tested on Wednesday as the number of close and casual contacts grows. Picture: Matt Jelonek/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

The FIFO worker, a maintenance contractor aged in his 30s, was at Perth Airport on July 20 while another man from Queensland was also at the airport.

The Queensland man, who had returned from the Philippines and completed two weeks of quarantine, had been denied entry to WA and isolated at a hotel before flying to Brisbane.

He later tested positive for Covid-19, and authorities believe the WA man likely picked up the virus from the Queenslander.

CCTV footage shows the FIFO worker walk past the masked Queenslander.

“That’s as far as we’re aware the only interaction between the two of them,” Mr McGowan said.

“It’s a very, very confusing and odd case because of all these circumstances that are involved.

“As soon as we were advised yesterday …. that there was a serious prospect he was positive sometime after July 20, we assembled facts and advised the public.”

The FIFO worker spent one week at Cloudbreak, then returned to Perth on July 27.

He did not have any symptoms and returned a weak positive test as part of FMG’s testing program.

It was also revealed on Wednesday that the man had previously contracted the virus in March last year.

See all newsletters, August 5, 2021, here

The BBC California is now virus free.Source:Supplied

Anyone who visited one of the following exposure sites must be tested immediately and quarantine until they return a negative result:


Old Faithful Bar and BBQ, 1 Pakenham St, on July 28 from 5pm to 7.30pm

Pathwest waiting room at Fremantle Hospital, on August 2 from 1pm to 3pm


The Indian Ocean Hotel (Indi Bar), 23-27 Hastings St, on July 29 from 7.30pm to 1am


The Subiaco Hotel, 465 Hay St, on July 31 from 6.30pm to 12am


Greenwood Village Shopping Centre, including Coles, Lewis Meats and Bakers Delight, 18 Calectasia St, on July 31 from 2.45pm to 3.30pm

North Fremantle

MRKT SPACE, 19 Freeman Loop, on July 31 from 8.30am to 10am

South Perth

The Southbank Day Surgery, 38 Meadowvale Ave, on August 2 from 1pm to 1.15pm

Perth Airport

T3/4 Perth Domestic Airport, Dunreath Dr, on July 20 from 4am to 7am

T3/4 Perth Domestic Airport, Dunreath Dr, on July 27 from 4.30pm to 6pm

The full list of exposure sites can be found here.

See all newsletters, August 5, 2021, here

Mr McGowan has repeatedly said the only way out of the pandemic is to get vaccinated. Picture: Matt Jelonek/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

There are 10 active coronavirus cases in WA, including two in hotel quarantine, the Greenwood FIFO worker quarantining at a home, five cases on-board the vessel Darya Krishna and two crew members from the same ship in hospital.

One of those crew members is on a ventilator but in a stable condition in the intensive care unit, while the other is in a stable condition in a respiratory ward.

Meanwhile, the BBC California cargo ship has now been cleaned of the virus and will set sail within days.

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