Western Australia, a state almost no one can visit, to pitch itself to tourists as ‘safest place in the world'

Photograph: Chameleons Eye/REX/Shutterstock

WA premier says the state will loosen Covid-19 border restrictions in ‘a couple of months’, but those trying to get home are unimpressed

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Western Australia is pitching itself to travellers as the “safest place” in the world from the Covid-19 pandemic, in a move that has frustrated expats stuck outside the state’s controlled border arrangements.

Premier Mark McGowan said that WA’s position on controlling its border had been “vindicated … on health, social and economic grounds, over and over again”.

He cited the emergence of the Omicron variant, which prompted the federal government to reintroduce quarantine for some international travellers, as further vindication of his closed border strategy.

McGowan unveiled the $185m transition plan to reopen WA to the world at a state address on Wednesday. He said WA was now in the position to market itself internationally as the safest place from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Related: Doctors say Flight Centre should ‘pull its head in’ after legal threat to WA borders

“The virtue of our careful and cautious approach, means Western Australia now has a new brand – of safety, stability and strength, and we will use that brand to market ourselves to the world,” he said.

It follows the launch of a Christmas-themed local tourism campaign earlier this month, where tourism minister David Templeman rode a segway in a Christmas jumper and shook hands with a skydiving Santa as part of a push to encourage West Australians to book or buy vouchers for local tourism experiences to support the struggling industry.

Western Australia tourism minister David Templeman rides a segway after a press conference in Perth. Photograph: Richard Wainwright/EPA

The premier has yet to give a date for opening the borders with other states in Australia or allowing international travel, saying that WA will be in a position to ease its border controls “in around a couple of months’ time” when the double dose vaccination rate hits 90%.

That is tipped to be late January or early February. The transition plan makes allowances for borders opening up later than anticipated, but not earlier. Should an outbreak occur before the 90% target is reached, it says, WA would aim to eliminate the virus through lockdowns and other measures before opening up.

At the moment, 76.2% of people aged 12 and over in the state have received two doses of a Covid vaccine.

    The WA border is currently open to travellers from Queensland and Tasmania. People from South Australia and the Northern Territory are allowed to travel if they show their vaccine certificate and undergo 14 days self-quarantine, and approved people from NSW and the ACT – such as officials or those travelling on compassionate grounds – can enter the state if they are fully vaccinated and do 14-days self-quarantine.

    Victorians are not even allowed into WA on compassionate grounds. The state is classified as an extreme risk, meaning the only people allowed to travel are fully vaccinated MPs, diplomats, government officials or a limited list of specialists, and even they must show a negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel and undergo 14 days of hotel quarantine at their own expense.

    Once the 90% target is reached, the borders will only be open to vaccinated travellers who have completed a negative PCR test within 72 hours before travelling, and been tested again on arrival in the state.

    McGowan’s announcement of the transition plan was met by a mix of support from resident West Australians and frustration from those who are trying to return home.

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    McGowan’s transition plan included a specific pitch to international investors.

    “If you’re in business, don’t you want to invest in the state that sensibly managed the pandemic and kept the economy operating?” he said.

    “If you’re a tourist, don’t you want to come to the safest destination, with a vaccination rate over 90% and the lowest levels of restrictions on venues and experiences?

    “If you’re the parent of a student, don’t you want them to study in a jurisdiction that’s safe and your child is less likely to catch a potentially deadly virus?”

    Related: Western Australia nurse who allegedly faked giving Covid vaccine to teenager charged

    One rural healthcare worker told Guardian Australia they were concerned that WA was putting more effort into marketing itself to tourists and business than it was to shoring up regional hospitals against the inevitable arrival of Covid once the borders open up.

    The vaccine rate in regional areas, particularly in the Pilbara, is lagging behind Perth and the more densely populated and affluent south-west.

    Visitors are currently banned from most remote Aboriginal communities in WA due to low vaccine rates.

    McGowan said the government would roll out targeted vaccination campaigns to increase uptake in regional areas. A pop-up clinic will be held in Kalgoorlie this week, as well as pop-up clinics at supermarkets across Perth and regional areas.

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