National cabinet scraps mandatory COVID-19 isolation

National cabinet scraps mandatory COVID-19 isolation

Australians will no longer have to stay home after testing positive to COVID-19 after national cabinet agreed to make isolation a personal decision, a major shift two years into the pandemic.

The change from October 14, announced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Friday after a meeting with state and territory leaders, means Commonwealth COVID-19 isolation payments will also end except for workers in high-risk settings.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff at Thursday’s national cabinet meeting.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The payments of up to $540 per isolation period, reduced earlier this month from a maximum $750, had cost the federal government $1.9 billion by July. National cabinet decided last month to keep them as long as mandatory isolation continued.

“We want to have measures that are proportionate and targeted,” Albanese said.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet led the charge for mandatory isolation to be scrapped. He argued the time had come for personal responsibility to govern the decision of whether to isolate, saying: “If you’re sick, you stay at home, and if you’re not, you get out and about and enjoy life.”

Albanese, premiers and chief ministers made the decision after receiving a briefing from Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, who chairs the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, made up of health chiefs from all jurisdictions.

National cabinet decided at its August 31 meeting to reduce mandatory isolation from seven to five days from September 9, except for workers in high-risk health and aged care settings. The AHPPC declined to publicly back that decision and Kelly has not fronted the media since July.

Health Services Union NSW president Gerard Hayes said ahead of the press conference on Friday that testing for COVID-19 had “dropped dramatically”, with many workers avoiding taking a rapid antigen test if they had symptoms because they needed to work.

“Once you start to lose the compliance, things start to drift,” he said. “A lot of people who have a sore throat don’t want to run the risk of having to stay home.”

Hayes used similar language to Perrottet in calling for mandatory isolation to be scrapped, arguing COVID-19 should be treated the same as influenza with a focus on “personal responsibility”.

People who test positive to influenza, a notifiable disease deemed infectious for a week after diagnosis and which pathologists must report to health authorities, are not legally required to isolate.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, SA Premier Peter Malinauskas, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, WA Premier Mark McGowan and NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles at the start of Friday’s national cabinet meeting.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Australian Defence Force pandemic assistance in residential aged care will end on September 30.

More to come

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