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Covid-positive patients and close contacts will only have to isolate for seven days after most state premiers agreed to new rules to keep the economy moving as the disease spreads rapidly around the nation.
Across most of the country, a close contact will now be defined as someone who has spent at least four hours in an ‘accommodation setting’ such as a household or a care facility with a positive case.
If a workplace such as an office has a positive case, the contacts don’t need to isolate, just monitor symptoms.
What are the changes and when do they kick in?
New definition of close contact: Someone who has spent at least four hours in a household or a care facility with a positive case. Workplaces do not count.
New isolation period: Positive people and close contacts must isolate for seven days or 10 in SA
Timing: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT will implement the changes at midnight.
Tasmania will follow on January 1 while the Northern Territory and Western Australia will not adopt the scheme until they get more Covid cases in the weeks ahead.
Close contacts with symptoms must have a PCR test but if they have no symptoms they can use a rapid antigen test.
They must isolate for seven days since their contact with the positive person and can leave isolation on day seven if they test negative on day six.
Covid-positive Aussies will also have to isolate for seven days after their initial test, provided they return a negative test on day six.
This model has already been adopted in the UK.
Casual contacts have been abolished, meaning anyone in a pub at the same time as a positive case no longer has to isolate.
‘If you are anything other than a close contact and you are not symptomatic, you don’t need to go and get a test,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘Now, I know this is a bit different to what you’ve been hearing over the last couple of years. That’s the gear change. That’s the reset. That’s what we need people to really understand.’
The move is designed to ease pressure on testing queues which have swelled due to a growing outbreak of the milder but more contagious Omicron variant over Christmas.
NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT will implement the changes on Friday morning at midnight.
South Australia will adopt the new close contact definition but keep a 10-day isolation rule in place.
Tasmania will adopt the new rules on January 1 while the Northern Territory and Western Australia will not adopt the definition until they get more Covid cases in the weeks ahead.
‘I am confident that this is the best way to manage the Omicron pandemic,’ Mr Morrison said.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, who recommended the changes, said they would help keep the economy functioning and avoid the whole nation being plunged into isolation.
‘We can have people out there in society and working when they are at less risk and only by the minimal amount of time in quarantine or isolation if they are a case or one of those very close contacts,’ he said.
Australia recorded 21,329 new cases on Thursday but only 122 people are in ICU because of vaccinations and the less severe nature of the Omicron variant which is making up about 80 per cent of cases.
Mr Morrison urged Aussies who are not close contacts to go the beach and enjoy themselves. Pictured: Bondi on Thursday
Aussies at Bondi Beach in Sydney on Thursday as the east enjoys a period of sunny weather
The Prime Minister also urged Aussies to get their booster jabs but said people are not considered ‘overdue’ if they don’t get them as soon as they are eligible.
On January 1 the recommended gap between second and third doses will shrink from five to four months.
Mr Morrison also revealed that some testing clinics in NSW and Victoria will start offering rapid antigen tests instead of PCR tests to ease pressure on labs.
‘We will transfer over the next few weeks from PCR to these rapid antigen tests with, at the state testing centres, over the next couple of weeks,’ he said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese earlier blasted the Prime Minister for not acting fast enough to secure rapid tests.
He said Mr Morrison was ‘always playing catch up, always waits until an issue becomes a crisis before there’s any movement whatsoever, and then always is looking for someone else to blame.
‘What we need today is some national leadership, something that’s been sorely lacking from this Prime Minister.’
The move is designed to ease pressure on testing queues which have swelled due to a growing outbreak of the Omicron variant over Christmas. Pictured: Testing at Rose Bay in Sydney
On Wednesday Mr Morrison defended himself after coming under fire for not buying enough rapid antigen tests which are largely unavailable in Queensland and scarce in Victoria and NSW.
‘We need the tests in the country, we just don’t have enough,’ Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said on Wednesday.
Victoria has ordered 34million rapid tests but has not said when they will arrive.
NSW has ordered 20million tests but they won’t arrive until February, sparking anger from the Labor Opposition. Premier Dominic Perrottet announced on Wednesday he will order an additional 30 million tests.
Mr Morrison said it was up to the states to provide rapid tests for general use but the Commonwealth has received four million and will get another six million for federal uses including in aged care settings.
‘States have the responsibility providing the tests in their settings. But where there’s issues around distribution and other things, the national reserve has been available just as it has been for masks and PPE,’ he said.
Mr Morrison also said a close contact of a positive Covid case should be released from isolation with a negative antigen test after six days. Pictured: Hotel quarantine in Adelaide for overseas arrivals in May
Mr Morrison said the rapid tests were a ‘precious commodity’ amid soaring international demand.
The need for rapid tests has become urgent as testing queues in Melbourne and Sydney stretched to five hours over the past week due to Queensland’s entry test requirements, clinic closures and more people wanting a negative result before visiting family over the Christmas holidays.
Asked if the long queues were a sign of ‘political failure’ Mr Morrison replied: ‘The testing regimes are run by the state and territory governments.’
On Wednesday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced she would replace the PCR requirement with rapid antigen test results to alleviate some of the pressure on laboratories from January 1, copying the same move by South Australia.
Under Mr Morrison’s definition pubgoers near a positive case would not be considered a close contact
Source: Daily Mail