Great Southern businesses can breathe a sigh of relief on Friday when the State’s indoor mask mandates and COVID proof-of-vaccination requirements are relaxed as WA hits a milestone in its return to pre-pandemic life. But AMA WA president Mark-Duncan Smith has encouraged Great Southern residents to keep wearing masks in high-risk settings, with active cases on the rise in the region in the past 10 days. A raft of strict COVID-19 restrictions including compulsory indoor mask wearing have been in place in the Great Southern since the end of January. From Friday the indoor mask mandates will be scrapped with people aged 12 and over — including Year 7s — only required to wear masks in high-risk settings including hospitals and other healthcare buildings, residential aged care, at airports, correctional facilities, on public transport and in rideshare cars and taxis. Proof of vaccination will only be required in hospitals and residential aged-care facilities and will no longer be needed at businesses and venues, though WA’s wide-ranging workplace vaccination mandates will remain in place. All gathering limits have been lifted including the 2sqm rule on venues, allowing weddings, events, nightlife venues and sporting competitions including those indoors to return to normal operation. The G2G pass system and proof of vaccination will be removed for domestic arrivals into WA. Close contacts with no symptoms will no longer need to quarantine for seven days but will be required to wear a face mask when outside the home, must avoid higher risk settings and take daily rapid antigen tests. If close contacts test positive, they must isolate for a further seven days, as per the current rules for positive COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, more than 85.6 per cent of the City of Albany’s eligible population had received more than two COVID vaccinations. Speaking from isolation on Tuesday, Premier Mark McGowan congratulated the State on achieving a “soft landing” of COVID in the community for “some of the best health outcomes in the entire world”. According to the State Government, WA reached its peak case numbers four weeks ago with hospitalisation and ICU admission rates lower than modelling predications. “This is a result of two years of hard work. I want to reassure all West Australians, we’ve done this based upon the best of medical advice the whole way through this pandemic over the course of the last two years,” Mr McGowan said. “These changed measures doesn’t mean that we’re fully out of the pandemic but it does mean the ‘baseline measures’ in place are going to be much reduced. “Can I also urge West Australians to just use common sense. If you’re unwell, please stay home. If you feel like you need to wear a mask when you’re out, wear a mask.” The easing of restrictions come after Albany’s peak business lobby in March called on the State Government to scrap the requirement for “higher-risk” businesses to police proof of vaccination. AMA WA president Dr Duncan-Smith had several concerns with Tuesday’s announcement — from the timing of it to the way it was worded. In his opinion, the restrictions have been lifted prematurely, with WA’s daily case numbers still reaching as high as 9314 last week after a peak of 9754 on March 30. The Great Southern recorded 151 new cases on Wednesday — the highest figure since March 30. “I would have preferred to have seen that we were on the downhill side of the curve and I would have liked to have seen that in the regions, as well,” he said. Dr Duncan-Smith said he was interested to see whether the written advice of Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson supported the State Government’s decision. He was concerned by the State Government appearing to ignore the CHO’s written advice at the end of March, when WA’s restrictions were eased from March 31. He also questioned whether modelling had been carried out ahead of Friday’s changes. “If they haven’t done the modelling, the question is: what are they basing this decision on?” he said. “And it’s not following the CHO’s advice, then it’s even more alarming.” With WA’s total COVID cases numbers at about 355,000, Dr Duncan-Smith said there was “a lot of COVID water still to go under that bridge”. He said it was a “natural expectation” that WA cases would rise with the reduction of restrictions and the government had a responsibility to reintroduce them if necessary. He encouraged Great Southern residents — especially the elderly and vulnerable — to continue wearing masks in high-risk settings. “I would have preferred the government to say that masks are now voluntary indoors,” he said. “People should not stigmatise others if they continue to wear masks, they should give them a thumbs up because they are still reducing the transmission of COVID and they are protecting themselves.” Albany Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Kerry Fry welcomed Tuesday’s announcement and said it was great to see WA falling into step with the rest of Australia. “Not needing to police the vaccination statuses and mask wearing of customers as well as the lifting of capacity limits are going to have a big impact on our local business community,” she said. “It’s going to significantly ease some of those immediate logistical and financial stresses businesses have been facing since the mandates were first implemented.” However, Ms Fry said Albany and the Great Southern were still facing a staff and housing crisis which would pose an ongoing challenge for businesses. Three Anchors owner Katie Sweetnam said the removal of the indoor mask mandates and proof of vaccination would bring welcome relief for local businesses. “It has definitely been very draining on all the staff and customers,” she said. “Having to work in a mask, our jobs are actually really quite physical so sucking in a mask during your shift is really horrible. “And then also just having to enforce that on customers slows down the till, taking orders takes a lot longer having to check for vaccination and it will just be a really big relief and weight off everyone’s shoulders. “It’s been hard work .. . . It makes every day a lot harder than it needs to be.” Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said the Albany community had fared particularly well during the pandemic. “I think the Government has done a very good job,” Mr Wellington said. “I think this has certainly been, to my mind, the best place in the world to live while we have gone through this pandemic. “We have come out of the other side, in terms of the number of people coming to visit here has been terrific.” Mr Wellington said it would be a welcome relief for business operators who have been struggling to find staff while adjusting to changing restrictions. “Some of them have found them particularly difficult to operate and it’s just part and parcel of the beast unfortunately,” he said.