Australia’s Northern Territory government has introduced a new health direction that allows workers who are essential to the operation of critical frontline services to still work if they are a close contact of a COVID-19 case.
Issued on Monday, the direction means that employees such as healthcare, childcare, and supermarket workers who are deemed close contacts can front up to work as long as they are fully vaccinated and take a rapid antigen test (RAT) each day.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said on Monday that as OMICRON spreads, managing COVID-19 includes making sure the Territory’s essential services stay open and stay staffed.
This comes after daily COVID-19 cases in the Territory hit a peak of 594 on Saturday, and the high number of close contacts has meant staff shortages across multiple businesses and services, which has affected business in the state, with bare supermarket shelves becoming a common sight.
Gunner said the new measure had been introduced so that critical frontline staff could continue to perform their essential duties.
“A childcare worker who is a close contact but not symptomatic can continue working while wearing a mask and keep getting tested if they are necessary to keep that childcare centre open,” he said.
“A close-contact supermarket worker can keep working while testing negative and being asymptomatic so long as they are wearing their mask and staying away from common areas like break rooms.”
Gunner reiterated that the direction only applies to essential workers who are needed to keep that place functioning.
Meanwhile, Shadow Health Minister Bill Yan pointed out in a social media post that “essential workers are not required to go to work if they are close contacts in isolation, but can choose to.”
Australian Medical Association NT President Dr Robert Parker welcomed the measure, saying it was necessary to achieve a balance.
“There needs to be a balance struck between a safe society and making society work,” he told the Epoch Times on Tuesday.
“People need to obtain food and services.”
Meanwhile, as the lockout for unvaccinated residents ended on Monday, the Territory Government introduced a new vaccine pass which will require people to show proof of vaccination when entering certain venues considered to be high-risk.
These venues include pubs, clubs, casinos, restaurants with a liquor licence, cinemas, theatres, and ticketed events for more than 500 people in urban centres or more than 100 people in non-urban centres.
The vaccine pass consists of a vaccine certificate linked to the Territory check-in app.
For unvaccinated residents, these venues will be off-limits.
Gunner also tried to redirect the residents of the Northern Territory response about the new mandates away from the hospitality staff who are enforcing the orders, saying that the blame should be placed on him, not them.
“It’s not our hospitality venues that are responsible for this law. We are,” Gunner said.
“Don’t blame them; blame me.”