COVID chaos as lockdown escapees flood South West

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Freeways are building up following the announcement of Perths 3 day lockdown.
Camera IconThe Freeways are building up following the announcement of Perths 3 day lockdown. Credit: - Justin Benson-Cooper / The West Australian

Key figures in the South West have called on Premier Mark McGowan to get a better plan in place for any future snap lockdowns after Friday’s bungled announcement led to thousands of Perth residents descending on tourist hotspots like Margaret River, Dunsborough and Busselton.

The city’s mass exodus on Friday was boosted by the call for Perth’s three-day lockdown not to come into effect until midnight.

Messages about COVID-19 requirements for tourists were unclear — and many paid no attention anyway — forcing venues to restrict trade or shut up shop entirely for fear of offending visitors not complying with the Chief Health Officer’s instructions.

Among the high-profile casualties was Sunday’s Tame Impala gig, cancelled for the second time because of restrictions.

An overwhelming number of residents on social media said the late curfew gave too many Perth residents time to head south, effectively dragging the South West into the fiasco. A spokesperson for Premier Mark McGowan asked for patience during a “one in 100-year pandemic”.

“Preparing for all of these unexpected challenges is not possible, but the State Government adapts quickly to implement the health advice — often within hours of a decision being made,” the spokesperson said.

“The situation on Friday developed and evolved throughout the day, and based on health advice, the State Government was required to make an urgent decision in the late afternoon.

“It takes time to put the logistics in place, such as road blocks and the legal mechanism, to implement lockdown restrictions.”

Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said there were clearly mixed messages in Friday’s announcement which left residents and business owners to deal with the influx while the South West was potentially exposed to COVID-19.

“It certainly didn’t dissuade anyone from coming,” he said.

“It was a reasonably clear message — if you get out of town before midnight, you are in the clear to carry on with life as normal.

“Let’s hope there aren’t any serious ramifications for our State.”

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said small businesses across the Capes were frustrated and some closed down “in the best interests of their patrons and in fear of offending our visitors”.

“The McGowan Government have had over a year to plan for this likely scenario and it’s extraordinary they have completely botched it up,” the Opposition health spokesperson said.

“It is quite clear when it came to the advice for Perth residents who wanted to leave the city on Friday, the regions were an afterthought.

“Backtracking health advice could have been avoided given this COVID scenario was always going to be a likely outcome from a Perth outbreak.”

Cr Henley said visitors were only deterred when venues closed and they faced a costly lockdown inside paid accommodation.

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president Ian Earl said residents had a right to be angry, but not at the Government.

“I feel for the Government in this,” he said.

“I think they’re working damned hard to fix things.

“Residents are right to be unhappy about it.

“There were a lot of people who were not from Margaret River and they weren’t wearing masks.”

He noted the Government was already stretched thin with the emergency response to cyclone Seroja, and the Anzac Day long weekend lockdown was bad timing.

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