Six COVID-19 case in South West, state government puts projects on hold

Image by Shutterstock.
Image by Shutterstock.

The State Government has announced changes to projects and legislation as the WA tally for COVID-19 hit 231 on Thursday, including six in the South West.

Another 26 new cases were reported on Thursday.

Currently, there are two cases each in the Great Southern, Wheatbelt and the Pilbara and one in the Goldfield.

The State Government has announced a suite of administrative measures to help WA respond to COVID-19.

Legislation will be introduced to parliament next week to increase the treasurer's advance limit by $1 billion, taking the total to $1.7 billion.

This will give the State Government immediate capacity to fund further economic stimulus measures, and crucial health or other services that may be required in coming months.

The treasurer's advance provides the State Government with the ability to approve additional spending in 2019-20, on top of the state budget appropriation, to allow it to respond to extraordinary or unforeseen circumstances.

Cabinet have also agreed on a number of initiatives that will be deferred indefinitely, in an effort to free up resources and allow the state government to continue to focus all efforts on responding to COVID-19.

With immediate effect, the following programs will be put on hold indefinitely:

  • The State Government's Public Sector Reform Program;
  • Our Priorities: Sharing Prosperity;
  • Strategic Assessment of the Perth and Peel Regions; and
  • The Supporting Communities Forum.

Where possible, staff in these areas will be reassigned to COVID-19 related tasks.

Infrastructure Western Australia has also agreed to scale back work on preparing the State's 20-year infrastructure plan given the current uncertainty.

In addition, BHP have agreed to release the $230 million that was allocated towards the construction of a new women's and maternity hospital, as part of a royalties settlement reached last year. This funding will now go towards the State's COVID-19 response.

The State Government remains committed to the new hospital in the longer term, and planning will progress in an appropriate manner once the COVID-19 pandemic crisis passes.

Premier Mark McGowan said responding to COVID-19 was the State Government's number one priority for the foreseeable future.

"We need everyone in government to work together to respond to COVID-19. This is unlike anything Western Australia, and indeed the world, has ever seen before," he said.

"It's also crucial that we are well prepared to support our economy to recover and rebuild, when the critical health issue is over.

"The McGowan Government has undertaken a huge program of reform across the State. Unfortunately, some programs will need to be put on hold to enable us to focus all efforts on COVID-19.

"This is the responsible thing to do. Further measures to support the State Government's response to COVID-19 are being considered and will be rolled out as needed.

"I've spoken to BHP who have agreed for the $230 million to be used for these COVID-19 purposes instead. I want to thank them for their understanding."

The State Government is also urging all Western-Australia-based researchers to apply for a new $3 million funding program to support COVID-related research.

The new COVID-19 research grants will be awarded on merit. While all projects will need to be scientifically and ethically sound, every effort will be made to expedite high-quality research through the governance process to enable earlier commencement.

Projects could involve anything from trials of new treatments or testing regimes to data or epidemiological studies.

The funding will also be available to provide infrastructure support for COVID-19 research.

Applicants will have until Wednesday April 8, 2020 to lodge applications for research projects and infrastructure support.

The new funding program will be overseen by the WA Department of Health in conjunction with the WA Health Translation Network, which includes consumer representation through the Consumer and Community Health Research Network.

Health Minister Roger Cook said now more than ever we can appreciate the incredibly important role that health and medical research has on the health and wellbeing of our community.

"This new funding scheme will give WA researchers an opportunity to be part of global efforts to minimise the impacts of COVID-19," he said.

"At a time when there is still no specific treatment for COVID-19, WA patients and healthcare consumers will potentially have access to clinical trials.

"We know that WA is home to many highly talented researchers, and I encourage any researcher who has a proposal that could help us tackle this current crisis, to apply for funding."