Many Australians are in favour of scrapping the mandatory seven-day Covid isolation period, although Anthony Albanese prefers to pay workers to stay home instead.
The Prime Minister on Saturday backflipped and announced he would reinstate $750-a-week Covid payments for casual workers and those without sick leave benefits who are forced into isolation.
He’d been pressured by state premiers to bring back the payments after refusing to budge on mandatory isolation, with the extension expected to cost taxpayers about $800million.
But in a survey conducted by Daily Mail Australia, 62 per cent of respondents said they wanted Covid isolation rules brought in line with the rest of the world instead.
This would remove the need for continued pandemic payments, and mean Covid positive workers are treated the same as those with influenza, which is also rampant.
Many Australians appear to be in favour of scrapping the mandatory seven-day Covid isolation period after Anthony Albanese refused to change his stance on the rules
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (pictured) has stuck by his seven day isolation rule for those with positive Covid cases but has been pressured into reinstating the costly payments scheme
Mr Albanese called an emergency national cabinet meeting on Australia’s latest Omicron wave after giving in to demands from premiers including Queensland leader Annastacia Palaszczuk, and then fast-tracked it from Monday to Saturday.
The Prime Minister at the meeting said the current rules around isolation would remain, and encouraged face masks to be worn in indoor settings.
Those with Covid are not required to isolate in countries such as the UK or Switzerland, while they are only ‘recommended’ to self-quarantine for five days in the United States.
Face masks are not enforced in the UK or Switzerland either – while Australians are still required to wear them while catching public transport or visiting a hospital.
Countries such as Sweden no longer categorise Covid as a ‘critical illness’.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has been leading calls for the isolation period to be ditched or shortened, and said if workers were forced to isolate they needed to be compensated.
‘Ultimately, we have to get to a point where if you are sick you stay at home and if you are not sick you can go to work,’ Mr Perrottet told News.com.au.
‘I think we need to look at the periods of time in which we are forcibly requiring people to not be able to work and provide for their families.
‘My view is this: if we’re going to have the state take away people’s liberty and they can’t work well then the state needs to compensate.’
Experts have predicted Covid infections will peak in late July or early August and Mr Albanese had been under mounting pressure to meet with state leaders and health bosses.
Anthony Albanese could have spared taxpayers $800million had he chosen to scrap the seven-day mandatory isolation period for Australians infected with Covid
The prime minister made the extraordinary backflip on Saturday announcing the payment for those having to isolate with Covid will be extended until September 30
Ms Palaszczuk and Tasmanian premier Jeremy Rockliff were particularly vocal in their calls for a cabinet meeting.
‘I think the country just wants to know how this wave is going. How the hospitalisations are going. And get the information from the chief health medical officer which is what we used to get from national cabinet,’ Ms Palaszczuk told The Today Show on Thursday.
‘It doesn’t have to be a long meeting. Gives an opportunity for the Prime Minister to brief the country on how it’s going.’
Mr Albanese had earlier said the $750-a-week pandemic leave disaster payment would not be reinstated past June 30.
But in a spectacular backflip on Saturday, he announced it would be made available again from Wednesday and would extend to September 30.
‘I want to make sure that people aren’t left behind, that vulnerable people are looked after,’ he said.
‘That no-one is faced with the unenviable choice of not being able to isolate properly without losing an income.’
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said isolation payments should be in place for as long as they’re needed.
‘The payments should never have been removed,’ he said on Saturday.
The disaster payments will be reinstated with crisis payments and cost $780million – with the price to be split between federal and state governments.
‘Going forward, the states and territories have agreed that this payment will be covered 50-50 on a shared cost with the states and territories,’ Mr Albanese said.
Shadow health spokeswoman Anne Ruston labelled it an ’embarrassing backflip’.
‘AlboMP has admitted that he left many Australians behind by his lack of action in his health response to the current outbreak,’ she wrote on Twitter.
Mr Albanese held an emergency national cabinet meeting, which was brought forward from Monday, as the latest Omicron variants sweep through Australia
Casual workers who have to isolate with Covid will be able to access a $750 payment as Anthony Albanese temporarily reinstates it
‘This is an embarrassing backflip and there are still questions to be answered, including if the Govt sought advice initially on cutting the payments?’.
Mr Albanese has meanwhile argued the isolation period was necessary to combat surging Covid cases and ease pressure on hospitals – even though a large portion of the strain on the healthcare system is coming from a surge in influenza cases.
Australia recorded its worst May on record with 65,770 confirmed influenza cases – more than double the number set before lockdown in 2019.
There is no mandatory isolation period for influenza, and no payments for casual workers off sick with the flu.
Health experts warned the previous lockdowns had weakened residents’ immune systems and made them more vulnerable to the virus.
Mr Albanese also vowed there will be a ‘consistent national approach’ in dealing with the Covid pandemic going forward.
‘The Commonwealth will meet with the states and territories in the national cabinet approach every two to three weeks,’ he said.
‘All of the premiers and chief ministers as well as the Commonwealth understand that we need to get the health outcomes right in order to protect people’s health and also to protect our economy.
‘When you get the health outcomes right, you protect jobs and protect the economy. We are all committed to that. The really positive thing as well today is [we are] working towards a much more consistent national approach.’
A temporary Telehealth system will also be introduced to connect GPs with patients who need to access oral Covid antivirals.
‘We want to make sure that antivirals can be administered where appropriate and in order to do that, this temporary Telehealth facility is appropriate, it is appropriate it be established,’ Mr Albanese said.
Dr Khorshid dubbed this move an ‘important step’ but was critical of the dozens of medical items no longer available bulk-billed via telehealth, including longer consultations.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet (above) wants there to be a discussion around reducing mandatory isolation periods
Mr Albanese had earlier argued the $1trillion national debt he ‘inherited’ from the Morrison Government and the ease of most Covid restrictions meant the Covid payment was no longer beneficial.
People will be able to begin to apply from July 20 for the payments, but it’s unclear if they’ll be continued past September 30.
Acting opposition leader Sussan Ley said the government should be prepared to continue the payments beyond September if needed.
‘We can’t have this stop, start continue to happen so I hope the government is well prepared to take the action they need to,’ Ms Ley told ABC News.
Greens leader Adam Bandt has urged Mr Albanese to extend them as well as free RATs for concession card holders.
Australia is currently battling two more-infectious sub-strains of the Omicron variant, known as BA.4 and BA.5.
Health experts have warned the strains are highly contagious and can reinfect people who have already had the virus and double-vaccinated residents – but it is not considered to be more dangerous than the previous strains.
Dr Kerry Chant was prompted to reduce the reinfection window period from 12 weeks to 28 days.
‘We’re urging people who have recently had Covid-19, even if they left isolation in the past four weeks, not to be complacent. If you develop symptoms again, make sure to test and isolate,’ Dr Chant said.
Australia recorded more than 40,000 cases on Saturday along with 77 deaths. There are currently more than 4,700 people in hospital.
Casual workers, specifically in hospitality and retail sectors, called for the $750 Covid isolation payment to be reinstated to help make up for vital lost income
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