Australia’s top doctor says those affected by Covid-19 should still not go to work while having symptoms, despite the lifting of mandatory isolation rules nationwide.
The country’s national cabinet met on Friday, where the premier, ministers of state and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese agreed to lift mandatory Covid-19 isolation rules from 14 October.
Isolation rules will remain for aged care and hospital workers struck down with Covid, but the decision on how long to stay away from the workplace will now be one for most Australians to decide for themselves.
During a press conference, Seven News reporter Mark Riley pointed out that lifting the isolation rules did not give Australians any clarity on how long they needed to stay away from work.
‘How are they staying away right now – five days, seven days, three days, one day?’ he asked.
Paul Kelly, Chief Medical Officer, said workplaces should treat Covid-19 no differently than they have for the past two and a half years.
Australia’s national cabinet has reportedly agreed to scrap mandatory Covid isolation rules
Professor Kelly pointed to a letter he wrote to Mr Albanese, in which he said he strongly urged Australians with ‘respiratory illnesses, and particularly people with confirmed Covid, to stay at home and particularly to avoid high-risk settings while symptomatic.’
He told reporters in Canberra: ‘We have not changed the infectiousness of this virus. The contagious period, we know, the average is two to three days is the highest contagiousness.
“Again, it would be if someone has symptoms, they are more likely to be contagious.”
Dr. However, Kelly said the government would not prevent contagious people from ‘going out into (the community) now. And we won’t be in the future.’
“With regard to the occupational elements, in the particularly high-risk environments, it will remain a discussion with the employers.
‘Occupational health and safety elements apply to all possible infectious diseases, this is how Covid should be seen.’
Australia is the latest country to join other nations around the world that have dropped Covid isolation measures, including the UK and Switzerland.
“We want to have measures that are proportionate and targeted,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.
Pandemic disaster leave payments will also be scrapped on the same date, with the exception of people in ‘high risk settings’.
Professor Paul Kelly is seen addressing the changes during a media conference on Friday
The Nine Network reported that the mandate will remain in place for aged care and hospital workers – but will not otherwise apply to those affected by Covid (pictured, National Cabinet meeting on Friday)
“We want to continue to promote vaccinations as absolutely critical, including people getting booster shots,” Mr Albanese said.
‘And we want a policy that promotes resilience and capacity building and reduces reliance on government intervention.’
Professor Kelly warned that scrapping the isolation rules was not an indication that the pandemic was ‘done’.
“It recognizes that we are in a very low transmission – community transmission phase of the pandemic here in Australia,” he said.
“It does not indicate in any way that the pandemic has ended. We will almost certainly see future peaks of the virus in the future, as we have seen earlier this year.
‘But at the moment we have very low rates of both cases, admissions, intensive admissions, outbreaks in the elderly and various other measures, which we have followed very closely in our weekly open report.’
“However, now is the time to consider that we have other things we can do to protect the most vulnerable people, and that is absolutely our most important goal.”
Albanese dismissed concerns that scrapping isolation rules and pandemic disaster payments would encourage infected workers to return to the office.
“It’s time to move away from Covid exceptionalism, in my opinion, and think about what we need to do to protect people from any respiratory disease,” he said.
The change follows a push by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet to scrap the long-standing rules.
Currently, Australians in all states and territories must self-isolate for five days if they test positive for Covid-19.
“We want to have measures that are proportionate and targeted,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Friday
“We need to get to a point where if you’re sick you stay at home and if you’re well you go out and enjoy life and that’s where we need to get to as a country,” Perrottet said.
‘We also need to get to this position where people look out for each other, that we look out for each other and make sure that if you’re sick, you stay at home without a public health order in place.’
The President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr. Steve Robson, warned against the move on ABC News Breakfast.
Dr. Robson said: “I think people who are pushing to bring down periods of isolation are not scientifically sound and are putting the public at risk and they need to understand that.”
‘We are again seeing a big upswing in the number of COVID cases. It’s heading into the holiday season where people travel around the world.
The Nine Network reported that the mandate will remain in place for aged care and hospital workers – but will not otherwise apply to those affected by Covid
“It is a period of significant risk and we urge caution because we need to protect the health system.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said COVID should be normalized as a virus and treated like any other respiratory illness.
Meanwhile, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said while case numbers were ticking down, caution was still needed.
“Right now is a period of low case numbers, low hospitalizations, low levels of community transmission, it’s unlikely to be a better time than now going into the summer,” he told reporters.
“But you also have to be aware of what might come next.”