The Australian government has confirmed that it will indefinitely extend pandemic leave payments for workers contracting COVID-19.
This means infected people who have to take leave from work can apply for support payments as long as they are under mandatory isolation in all states and territories.
The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment scheme was introduced by the previous Coalition government in August 2020 and was due to expire at the end of September 2022.
Under the current program, qualified employees can receive a maximum payment of $750 (US$505) for their seven-day isolation period, while payments for those subject to a five-day isolation period are capped at $540.
Details of the Expanded Scheme
The extension came after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese held a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders on Sept. 14.
He said the federal and state governments would share the payments 50-50.
“We remain obviously of the view that if people are sick, whether from COVID or from other health issues, they should not be at work, and that is important,” the prime minister said.
“The government has a responsibility to provide support for the appropriate period which is designated.”
Previously, the scheme was due to expire at the beginning of July. However, the government decided to extend it to September following backlash from the public and a rise in COVID cases.
The program has cost Australian taxpayers $2.2 billion since its inception, including the $320 million incurred during the extended period.
Albanese said the government would maintain mandatory isolation periods of five days for workers contracting COVID-19 in normal situations and seven days for those working in high-risk settings.
While workers can continue to apply for support payments, new changes have been made to the program, which limits the number of claims that can be made over a six-month period to three unless in extraordinary circumstances.
At the same time, the prime minister said there was evidence of fraud as Services Australia found that 2.6 percent of all claims received triggered real-time fraud checks.
Regarding lowering isolation period requirements, he said the national cabinet meeting did not discuss the matter in detail but noted that it was likely to be put on the table when leaders met in person at the end of September.
“What we are seeing is gradually a move towards COVID being treated like other health issues,” he said.