Tourism industry awaits decision to allow visitors to Pilbara with low vaccination rates as WA borders reopen

Pilbara’s tourism industry says it needs concrete responses from the Western Australian government on whether the region will be cut off from the rest of the state, as vaccination rates in the region remain low.

WA is expected to ease its hard borders on February 5.

In November, tourists reported by Premier Mark McGowan could be barred from visiting areas with low COVID-19 vaccination rates and unvaccinated residents could be barred from returning home.

In Pilbara, 59.5% of people aged 12 and over received their first COVID-19 vaccination, while 52.7% received their second dose.

By comparison, 85.4% of the eligible population in Western Australia received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Mackerel Islands general manager Drew Norrish said he was awaiting the state government’s final decision and was quite nervous.

“We hope that this will stay with the original advice and that people who are not vaccinated will find it difficult to enter the region and that everyone can move around freely and spend their holidays,” he said.

Mr Norrish said the tourism industry needed to know if and when borders would be closed in order to notify customers as soon as possible.

Mark McGowan reported that tourists may be barred from visiting areas with low vaccination rates.(ABC News: James Carmody)

“Direct bookings that we can contact immediately but [for] people who bring loads of people into the area or who are booked for tours and third parties, we need months to really make sure it’s not a messy result, ”he said.

A state government spokesperson said that as part of WA’s safe transition, anyone traveling to Pilbara by air should be double vaccinated.

“This may include proof of vaccination in various settings, among other options.”

Uncertainty ripens through the Pilbara

Mr Norrish said he remains in close contact with tourists who have booked accommodation and tours to the Mackerel Islands, as well as Karijini Eco Retreat, which the company also operates.

“We all followed our terms and conditions and tried to communicate them to people while they are booking so that everyone is fully aware of the range of results, he said.

Mr Norrish said tourists he spoke to were clear that it was their responsibility to get vaccinated to spend their vacations.

Pilbara Tours chief executive Phil Smeeton said the uncertainty surrounding the government’s previous announcement made him hesitate to plan for the next tourist seasons.

A smiling man, holding a fish, with a tourist bus in the background.
Pilbara Tours’ peak season begins in April, but the company says it’s hard to prepare for it.(Provided)

Pilbara Tours runs fishing trips, salt water tours and team building days around Port Hedland, with the company’s peak season running from April to October.

The company didn’t know how popular the tours would be once WA’s borders were relaxed, he said.

“Tourists may be reluctant to take tours, to get on buses, if they are trying to avoid contracting COVID and it may well be that the state is not happy with unvaccinated travelers across the country. the Pilbara. “

Mr Norrish said he foresees all eventualities and expects tough times over the next year.

“Staff availability is one thing. The nervousness will likely be if COVID enters the workforce in remote locations and they are forced to self-isolate, it’s a whole different set of potential quality impacts. service and things like that. “

Great view of a red rock gorge with waterfall in the center and sunset in the distance.
Tourists who plan to visit destinations like Karijini Eco Retreat are told they will need to get vaccinated.(ABC: secondary roads)

Mr Smeeton said the companies, which had been in operation for four years, were trying to find new solutions to keep up with the changing times.

“If the response of tourist markets is a reluctance to get on the bus, we have a capacity [for people] to accompany us with inter-vehicle communication so that we can still do guided tours, but people will be able to travel in their own vehicle, ”he said.

Government focused on increasing Pilbara’s vax rate

A state government spokesperson said it was doing everything possible to encourage people in Pilbara to get vaccinated.

“These activities in the region are extensive and include mobile vaccination teams which continue to offer door-to-door vaccination in all towns of Pilbara,” they said.

“Efforts include clinics extending hours and opening on weekends where possible.”

The state government said that in January, mobile buses will travel to Pilbara to offer vaccinations in parks and other places to vulnerable customers.

“Vaccines are being deployed in remote indigenous communities managed by WACHS (WA Country Health Service) to continue to provide opportunistic vaccinations to community members,” they said.

The Karratha city spokesperson said he supported the state government’s rollout of the vaccine, but feared the Pilbara-wide rates were still as low.

“We seek advice from the state government regarding the particular segments of our community that are most under-represented in immunization so that promotions and immunization efforts can target these cohorts,” he said.

“With the state border opening on February 5, it is critical that all eligible people in the community take action now to get the vaccine. “

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