With soaring numbers of Covid infections across all states and territories for the first time since the pandemic began, major changes to how the virus is managed have been introduced after an emergency National Cabinet meeting.
In welcome news, for most people, the now-dominant Omicron strain is not as serious as the previous version Delta was – partly because it doesn’t do as much damage in the lungs.
The high rates of vaccination in Australia also place the nation in a strong position to ride out a peak in case numbers without dangerous increases in hospital admissions and intensive care units.
‘We’re in the top 10 most vaccinated OECD countries in the world, both on first dose and on second dose. So we are in a good position to push through or ride the wave or whichever way people might want to describe it,’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.
But the accelerating spread of Covid with Omicron and the sheer numbers involved – a record 64,767 new cases on Wednesday – has most Australians sitting up to take notice, and wondering what they should do if they catch the virus.
Only a few days ago, on Boxing Day, the New South Wales health minister predicted ‘Everyone in Australia will get Omicron’.
Daily Mail Australia brings you a definitive guide on what to do if you are exposed to Covid, or test positive, under the new rules.
Huge changes have come in dictating who should get a Covid test, what kind, and when. Those who are symptomatic or close contacts are still encouraged to go to a testing centre for PCRs tests (pictured, queues outside a clinic in Melbourne on Wednesday)
The accelerating spread of Covid infections and the sheer numbers involved – a record 64,767 new cases on Wednesday – has most Australians sitting up to take notice (pictured, a masked woman in Perth)
HOW DO I GET A RAPID ANTIGEN TEST (RAT)?
For now, you’ll have to buy them, at a cost of around $15 a each, from pharmacies or supermarkets – but stocks are still running low.
Within two weeks – by mid-January – 6.6 million Australians on low incomes and pensions and concessions can get them for free.
Up to 10 Rapid Antigen Tests over three months, a maximum of five in a month, will be made available free through pharmacies to people who hold a government concession card.
Anyone who is symptomatic or a close contact of a Covid case can collect rapid tests for free from testing centres.
Suppliers are frequently running out of rapid antigen tests (pictured, a Sydney pharmacy) as Australians rush to find out if they have Covid
Isolation requirements have also disrupted supermarket supply chains, with many shelves now left bare (pictured, a Coles supermarket in Sydney). Coles has reintroduced buying limits on some items
WHAT DO I DO IF I TEST POSITIVE ON A RAPID TEST
This now means it’s confirmed you have Covid.
You no longer have to get a PCR test to confirm that you have Covid – as of Wednesday.
Previously, anyone who tested positive to RAT had to get a proper viral swab to confirm their infection – but now will be treated as Covid positive without having to get further confirmation.
This change, confirmed by the Prime Minister, was made on Wednesday because of the pressures on the testing system caused by people seeking PCR swabs, which are more accurate but much more time-consuming and costly to process.
‘That will take pressure off PCR testing lines,’ Mr Morrison said.
A positive Covid result on a RAT automatically triggers the requirement to contact people you’ve been in contact with.
The mushrooming increases in new Covid-19 infections in all states make it clear hundreds of thousands of Australians are likely to get virus – with people urged to take rapid antigen tests (pictured) rather than queue up for PCRs
WHO DO I NEED TO CALL IF I TEST POSITIVE?
You need to tell the people you’ve spent time with.
You may have been infectious from two days before you developed symptoms, or two days before you tested positive even if you did not have symptoms.
Who can get free Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs)?
Holders of the following cards can get up to 10 Rapid Antigen Tests over three months (with a maximum of 5 in a month):
– Pension Concession Card
– Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card
– Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold, White or Orange Card
– Health Care Card
– Low Income Health Card
The Federal Government’s Coronavirus helpline is 1800 020 080
People who were with you for four hours or more are ‘close contacts’ and must self-isolate for seven days. This includes people you live with – also know as ‘household contacts’.
Anyone who was in contact with you for less time needs to monitor their symptoms and get tested if they start to get sick.
You also need to tell your workplace – give them the date of your test, the date you got symptoms and tell them the days you were at work while symptomatic.
Health authorities need to know if you have Covid too. As of now that means you need to get in touch with your GP and let them now you have Covid, those the Federal Government told Daily Mail Australia the details of such a system are still being ironed out.
That’s so health authorities can keep track of the spread and the bigger picture – the total cases and what happens with each case.
This helps them manage and adjust Covid policies – and react by changing public health orders and restrictions if things begin to get extremely serious on a large scale.
Health authorities used to track case numbers automatically through PCR tests but the overall case numbers seem destined to be under-estimated now that a higher proportion of Covid infections will be detected on home kits.
While the chain of reporting for Covid cases is still being worked out, the Prime Minister indicated people will need to be in touch with their GP.
‘We’re working on a system through our GPs and other processes for people to report whether they’ve got a positive test,’ Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.
‘The reason we want people to report is not to count numbers… It’s about connecting people to care.’
Sydneysiders headed to the Elevate Sydney festival for its final night on Wednesday (pictured) despite the looming Covid threat
HOW LONG DO I ISOLATE FOR?
If you test positive for Covid-19 – and/or if you are a close contact you need to self-isolate for seven days from the day you were tested.
You can only leave self-isolation after seven days if your symptoms have gone or in some states, if you have returned a negative RAT.
So if you still have a sore throat, runny nose, cough or shortness of breath at the end of your self-isolation period you need to speak to a doctor or government Covid support team before leaving isolation.
If that’s the case, you are probably still sick and may still be infectious.
Scott Morrison announced changes to Australia’s Covid testing systems on Wednesday (pictured) – with those who have a positive rapid antigen test no longer needing to confirm it with a PCR
WHAT DO I DO IF I’VE BEEN IN CONTACT WITH SOMEONE WHO TESTED POSITIVE?
If you have been notified by someone you spent four hours (or more) with indoors that they have Covid-19 you are officially a close contact.
Close contacts are eligible for PCR tests, but you can also do rapid antigen tests, which are DIY home testing kits you pick up from a chemist.
Most importantly, close contacts must self-isolate for seven days – even if you have not tested positive to Covid.
Workplaces are exempt from this definition. If a workplace records a positive case the contacts do not need to isolate but monitor for Covid symptoms.
Omicron is so contagious that even if you weren’t with someone for the full four hours, you could still easily develop Covid.
It is vital to monitor for symptoms and use rapid tests to determine whether you have Covid.
Overuse of testing clinics led to huge queues which potentially exposed more people to the virus – but pressure on that system will now be eased by the new rules (pictured, testing queues in Melbourne on Wednesday)
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE COVID?
It sounds obvious but many people self-diagnose – and that doesn’t mean you have Covid.
Feeling run-down or even sick doesn’t mean you have Covid.
To be certain you need a positive test result.
CAN I STILL GET A PCR TEST?
Yes, if you are a close contact or have symptoms.
‘If you are symptomatic or a close contact, do not go to the pharmacy, go to the testing centre. That’s where we need you to go,’ Mr Morrison said.
PCR or lab tests are the most accurate tests but also the costliest and most time consuming, and are therefore now reserved for those most likely to have the virus.
The huge demand for them led to massive and frustrating queues for the public – leading to results taking too long to be delivered, potentially exposing more people to Covid.
The demand for PCR tests put the entire Covid testing regime under enormous strain.
Aussies are well placed to get through the highly-infectious Omicron stage of Covid (pictured, a masked woman in Brisbane on Tuesday)
PCR tests are now reserved for only people who are close contacts of positive cases and those with obvious symptoms.
For those people, PCR tests are still free and available at government-run clinics in your state or territory.
That means don’t bother queueing up for a PCR test if you haven’t been in contact with a Covid case and have no symptoms.
‘If you are not a close contact, if you are not symptomatic, you do not need to get a test,’ the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said on Wednesday.
Victoria recorded 17,636 new infections overnight – but ICU admissions in both states remain steady (pictured, a testing queue on Melbourne’s Bourke Street)
HOW DO I GET OVER COVID?
For most people under 65 years of age, who have had two vaccine doses and do not have any prior conditions, the Omicron strain of Covid will be a relatively mild illness.
But ‘mild’ illness can still leave you nursing a fever, a bad cough and a host of other symptoms, with many young, healthy patients reporting losing appetite and suffering insomnia.
Provided you don’t have any chronic health conditions and are not pregnant, you can get through Covid by resting at home.
Some people may not have any symptoms at all – but even if you have few symptoms, you’re stills required to self-isolate.
‘If you are symptomatic or a close contact, do not go to the pharmacy, go to the testing centre. That’s where we need you to go,’ Mr Morrison said (pictured, testing staff on the Gold Coast on Wednesday)
WHEN CAN I GO BACK TO WORK AFTER HAVING COVID?
At present you need a negative a negative RAT result to return to work, but Scott Morrison has indicated this requirement may soon be removed.
WHAT IF I GET REALLY SICK WITH COVID?
Do not just hope for the best. A reminder that if you have tested positive you should have let your GP know to ensure you get the care needed.
Covid has killed 2,289 Australians – and although Omicron is less severe, it is still killing Aussies now.
It is also landing hundreds in hospital. On Wednesday there were over 3,100 Aussies in hospitals with Covid and 194 were sick enough to be in intensive care wards.
Dangerous symptoms to watch for include: severe headache or dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pressure or pain.
If you have these symptoms, call 000 immediately tell the ambulance staff that you have been diagnosed with Covid-19.
WHAT ARE THE NEW CHANGES TO TESTS ACROSS AUSTRALIA?
– 10 free Rapid Antigen Tests now available to low-income and vulnerable Australians over a three-month period
– The free tests can be accessed at chemists with a concession or seniors card
– PCR test no longer required to officially confirm a positive RAT result
– Price gouging on RATs banned, with businesses caught doing so facing fines of up to $66,000
– The move comes after the in-demand tests were being sold for as much as $50
Source: DailyMail AU