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COVID-19: Update for Local Government
6 January 2022

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Message from the WALGA CEO
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 formed the bulk of discussions at yesterday's meeting of the State Emergency Coordination Group.
The meeting included the Minister for Emergency Management, Hon Stephen Dawson and Minister for Police, Hon Paul Papalia, the State Emergency Controller Chris Dawson and Chief Health Officer Dr Andy Robertson.  

The focus of the discussion was the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is significantly more transmissible than previous variants, and the need for the State to prepare for the impact of Omicron when it arrives. 
Book for third dose as soon as eligible
The third dose provides additional protection against contracting COVID-19 and a significant improvement in protection against hospitalisation, compared to two doses of a vaccine.
Vaccines available and 90% achievable
There is no shortage of the Pfizer vaccine and there should be sufficient vaccine (including third doses) available in the State for all those who need to receive it.   The Chief Health Officer was confident that WA will reach the 90% double dose vaccination rate before the scheduled re-opening of borders on Saturday, 5 February.
Vaccine rates not uniform
Although the overall vaccination rates are high, the rates for Aboriginal people are lower across the State and rates are also lower in some regions.  As per the Premier's initial announcement, lower vaccination rates will likely be linked to increased restrictions in the future.
Review Business Continuity Plans
As the Omicron variant is significantly more transmissible, it is important that Local Governments revisit their business continuity planning to consider the implications.

At the meeting, the Chief Health Officer addressed questions about the capacity of the health sector, particularly in regional areas, to cope if there is a surge in infections or hospitalisations. He indicated that the Department of Health is working with the WA Country Health Services to ensure that there is adequate capacity.  
WA is currently the only State with zero hospitalisations for COVID-19 and low numbers with COVID-19.  That is the result of the strict controls and rapid response that has been in place.   We can learn from what has worked, and not worked, in other States and Territories to ensure we are as prepared as possible. 
WALGA will be hosting webinars in the coming weeks for the sector to ensure there is sufficient information available to ensure that planning and responses to COVID-19, and in particular the Omicron variant, can be undertaken. 
For more information, email the COVID-19 response team.
Clarification and Update on the Building and Construction Industry Worker (Restrictions on Access) Directions
An updated Building and Construction Industry Worker (Restrictions on Access) Directions (No. 3) has been released which provides additional clarity regarding the application of this Direction to Local Government road work operations. 
The Directions specifically exclude from the definition of Building and Construction workers:

“a person employed by a local government undertaking minor construction work (including but not limited to minor road works, work on pavements/footpaths, irrigation work, parks and gardens work, landscaping work) where the construction work is being conducted by only people employed by a local government.”
This is in line with the previous advice provided by the Chief Health Officer to WALGA and communicated to the sector, that it was not the intent to cover many Local Government activities.  However, WALGA has requested further information from the Department of Health regarding:
  • the definition of ‘minor’
  • how the Direction applies when there is interaction between Local Government employees and contractors at a site, and
  • the interaction of this Direction with the Remote Aboriginal Community Worker Direction.
Once received, that information will be provided to the sector.
The Directions can be found here
Booster Directions
The State Government issued the Booster Vaccination (Restrictions on Access) Directions on Friday, 24 December 2021 (Booster Directions).
The Booster Directions require all workers covered by all of the other Mandatory Vaccination Directions to have a booster vaccination either by 5 February 2022 or within one calendar month of becoming eligible.   Eligibility for the booster vaccination is complicated by the change of advice from ATAGI regarding how long after the second vaccination a booster vaccine dose can be given, which has reduced from five months to three months. 

The following table sets out how eligibility is determined based on timeframes set by the Booster Directions.

The Directions can be found here
Current COVID Restrictions (Gatherings and Related Measures) Directions
The COVID Restrictions (Gatherings and Related Measures) Directions No. 4 which restricts gatherings and requires mask wearing in certain spaces is due to expire at 6pm, Friday 7 January. 
Through the Directions there are requirements for wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as Local Government facilities (e.g. Offices, Libraries and Recreation Centres), unless specific exemptions apply.  The Directions outline the circumstances where wearing a mask is not required, for example during vigorous exercise or while eating / drinking in paragraph 8. 

One of the specific exemptions in paragraph 8 is where a person has a physical, developmental or mental illness, injury, condition or disability which makes wearing a face covering unsuitable.

Where a person is not wearing a face covering for this reason, the Directions were amended on 5 January 2022, to include a requirement that, where requested to do so by a responsible person, they produce a medical certificate that certifies that the person has such an illness, injury or condition or disability that makes wearing a face covering unsuitable.   

The definition of responsible person is “in relation to particular premises, means the occupier or other person apparently in charge of those premises”.  

For example, a person entering a Recreation Centre or Library would need to wear a mask and if claiming that they have a relevant condition which prevents them from wearing a mask, they would – on request - need to provide the person in charge of the Centre (e.g. the Centre Manager) with a medical certificate. 

The Directions state that where a person is relying on an exemption under some of the other reasons for an exemption, the person should resume wearing a mask as soon as reasonably practicable as soon as that reason ceases.  For example, putting your face mask on after eating or drinking. 
The Directions can be viewed here, with additional FAQs available here
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