The Great Southern has entered a new phase of the COVID pandemic with the WA Government’s mask mandate and proof-of-vaccination laws in full swing. The region’s restriction-free run came to an abrupt end on Thursday, when Premier Mark McGowan announced mask rules would be extended to the Great Southern and Wheatbelt after a Cunderdin resident tested positive to COVID on Wednesday. By Friday, the Wheatbelt cluster had grown to three, with one new infection in Cunderdin and another in Goomalling. But as of Tuesday morning, there were still no confirmed cases in the Great Southern. Great Southern locals must now mask up at all public indoor venues, including workplaces, in all vehicles except if travelling alone or with a member of the same household, in residential aged or disability care facilities and at hospitals. Anyone who has been in the Wheatbelt or Great Southern since January 20 must also follow the rules. Children aged 12 and under are not required to wear a mask, along with people with approved medical exemptions. The first day back at school for 2022 looked a bit different this year with secondary students required to wear masks. While it is not yet compulsory for primary school students, Year 3s and above will have to wear masks if COVID-19 cases increase significantly. Shire of Katanning president Liz Guidera said it was encouraging to see people embracing the new government directives. “The best way to protect ourselves from COVID-19 is to wear the mask, keep to the safe distances, wash your hands and stay at home if you feel unwell and of course to get vaccinated,” she said. “These measures will do more than anything else and they are all controlled by each individual.” Monday marked another major change for regional residents with people aged 16 and over required to show evidence they have been double-vaccinated to enter a swathe of public places including hospitality venues, bottle shops, nightclubs, cinemas, gyms, public transport, taxis, residential aged care and hospitals. The proof-of-vaccination requirements do not include roadhouses, petrol stations and non-alcoholic takeaway. Staff at these venues who did not previously fall under the WA Government’s mandatory vaccination policy needed to be single-dose vaccinated by Monday to continue working, unless they had an approved medical exemption. Their double-vaccination deadline is February 28. The onus of policing proof of vaccination has fallen on the shoulders of the venues’ staff, who according to the WA Government, must ensure each patron provides evidence of their vaccination status and “take reasonable steps” to ensure those who do not show evidence to not enter the premises. Shadow treasurer Steve Thomas on Monday slammed the State Government’s monitoring and compliance of the new rules as a “farce”. “The reality is that many unvaccinated people will be going to work and trying to visit business premises tomorrow in flagrant disregard of the Government’s rules, which has been left to business to police themselves,” he said. “This lack of management is compounding the lack of clarity and certainty business is already struggling with as the Government flip-flops on the rules and trickles out changes at the Premier’s whim.” Great Southern Police Acting Superintendent Paul McMurtrie urged people to show “restraint, humility and respect” to local businesses enforcing the new rules. “The majority of the Great Southern community have showed great compliance and are adhering to the directions,” he said. “From the get-go with COVID the WA Police Force have policed this issue with compassion and we’d certainly prefer to hand out masks than infringe people for breaching the directions. “It’s a difficult period for everyone but please comply and show some humility and respect to those people working in those premises.” From Monday, anyone who “threatens”, “intimidates” or is “offensive” towards businesses who ask for proof vaccination could be jailed for a year or fined up to $50,000. Businesses which fail to comply with the vaccine passport scheme could be fined up to $250,000. Ms Guidera said it was important for people to be patient with local businesses. “These are instructions from the State Government. We have to comply and we don’t have any discretion,” she said.