Covid close contacts across Australia who work in critical industries no longer have to isolate if they test negative for coronavirus from a rapid antigen test and don’t display any symptoms, after a major announcement from Scott Morrison.
The development comes as the Federal Government has added a number of industries where workers are deemed essential, after soaring Covid cases across the country left thousands in isolation – and supermarket shelves bare.
Those employed in fields such as law enforcement, correctional services, energy, water, waste management and food are now viewed as crucial, following the lead of those in key sectors such as transport, freight and logistics.
The changes were agreed upon by state and territory leaders during the National Cabinet meeting on Thursday in Canberra.
It follows huge numbers of Omicron cases sidelining thousands of workers from their jobs across the nation due to either contracting Covid-19 or being deemed a close contact.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said people need to work where possible, and a fine balance needs to be struck between managing Covid and keeping society moving.
Covid close contacts across Australia no longer have to isolate if they test negative for coronavirus from a rapid antigen test and don’t display any symptoms – it follows a meeting in National Cabinet on Thursday (pictured, Scott Morrison making the announcement on Thursday)
Supermarkets have been struggling with a huge shortage of staff thanks to tens of thousands contracting Covid – and all of their close contacts plunged into isolation (pictured, a Coles worker in Melbourne)
Those employed in fields such as energy, water, waste management and food are now viewed as essential workers, following the lead of those in key sectors such as transport, freight and logistics (pictured, a Transport NSW employee)
‘We know what we have to do… keep our hospitals going, keep our health system strong and keep as many people at work,’ he said.
‘The less restrictions you put on people to get them to work, the more pressure that could potentially put on your hospital system.’
Mr Morrison’s desperate plan was hatched in National Cabinet to solve Australia’s deepening supply chain crisis, which has seen businesses struggling to find staff and many supermarket shelves left empty as Covid cases skyrocket.
EVERY INDUSTRY WHICH COUNTS AS ‘ESSENTIAL’ UNDER NEW CLOSE CONTACT EXEMPTION RULES
- Transport, freight, logistics and service stations
- Health, welfare, care and support (including production and provision of medical, pharmaceutical and health supplies),
- Emergency services, safety, law enforcement, justice and correctional services
- Energy, resources and water, and waste management
- Food, beverage, and other critical goods (includes farming)
- Telecommunications, data, broadcasting and media
- Financial and insurance services
- Critical government functions, federal, state or local government and public works
- Building and construction
- Accommodation and real estate
Teachers, childcare workers and emergency services personnel are also included in the ‘essential’ arrangement along with workers in telecommunications, broadcasting and media sectors.
Officials later stressed that not every worker in a critical sector will be allowed to leave isolation, and that they must have a ‘critical role’ in the running of their business operation.
Food workers have also been added to the list, along with the likes of law enforcement and correctional services (pictured, seafood workers in Melbourne recently)
Close contacts working in critical rolls have been told they can leave isolation as long as they’ve tested negative on a rapid antigen test – which have been hard to come by (pictured, a sold out sign outside a Sydney chemist on Thursday)
Critics say the relaxed rules are likely to lead to even more positive cases, amplifying the supply chain crunch, as rapid tests notoriously do not pick up someone’s infection for a number of days – meaning they could test negative, but still be infectious.
It comes as the prime minister slammed so called ‘Omicron parties’ where some Australians are getting together to intentionally catch the virus in the mistaken belief it will make them ‘immune’.
Australia recorded a staggering 150,000 new Covid cases on Thursday with a back log of some 60,000 RAT results added to the tally in NSW dating back to January 1.
Mr Morrison said a solution to the issues facing Australia must strike a ‘very delicate balance’ between public health and the economy.
The new rules in terms of essential workers apply to anyone who works in the food supply sector as well as the transport, freight and logistics industries (pictured, shelves stripped of painkillers at a Melbourne Woolworths)
In a frank admission, the PM admitted that the goal is not to stop everyone in the country getting Covid, it is instead to ‘protect our hospitals and keep our society and economy functioning as we ride this latest wave of Omicron’.
Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy outlined that about 10 per cent of the Australia workforce is currently off the job due to isolation requirements.
Mr Morrison said the problem is likely to get worse if the start of the school year is delayed at the end of the month – as Queensland and South Australia have decided to do.
‘If schools don’t open, that can add an additional five per cent of absenteeism in the workforce,’ the prime minister said.
Covid isolation requirements have seen 10 per cent of Australia’s workforce off the job, leaving a strain on everywhere from supermarkets to petrol stations (pictured, a petrol station in Central Sydney)
‘It is absolutely essential for schools to go back safely and remain safely open if we are not going to see any further exacerbation of the workforce challenges we are currently facing.
‘We did have a serious discussion about that, and the advice from the medical expert panel. We will be confirming our views on that over the course of the next week.’
While the changes from National Cabinet have been well-received by impacted industries, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he has concerns expert medical advice is not being adhered to.
‘We need to take that advice because where medical advice has been ignored, or short-circuited, the end economic consequences have been more dire than if the medical advice had been followed,’ Mr Albanese said.
Covid testing numbers have plummeted in recent days – with just 88,164 conducted on Wednesday, leading to a staggering 30,541 positive cases (pictured, the once packed drive-through testing centre at Bondi Beach on Thursday)
‘Working people have made incredible sacrifices and stepped up. They did their part of the bargain, the federal government has not done its part.’
The prime minister also addressed the bizarre phenomenon of Omicron parties, where some Australian residents are intentionally exposing themselves to the virus.
‘All this nonsense about Covid parties, it is ridiculous,’ he said.
‘If you think you can go out there and get the virus and get it over with, that is not how this works.’
He strongly urged Australians to use ‘common sense’ and follow the public health measures laid out by state and federal governments.