Australia Drops Mandatory COVID-19 Isolation Rules

Australia Drops Mandatory COVID-19 Isolation Rules
A sign reading “Go straight home and Isolate” at the exit of a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Highpoint shopping center in Melbourne, Australia, on July 4, 2020. (Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Mandatory isolation periods for COVID-19 have been scrapped following a decision by the national cabinet.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and state and territory leaders agreed people with COVID-19 will no longer be subject to a five-day stay-at-home order following Friday's meeting at Parliament House.

The changes will come into effect from October 14.

The isolation period, however, will still apply to employees in vulnerable settings such as hospital workers and those in aged care.

The decision to eliminate the mandatory isolation period will also mean the end of pandemic leave payments for affected workers, with the payments to end from October 14.

The payments that remain for workers in vulnerable settings would be split 50-50 between the Commonwealth and the states and territories.

Prime Minsiter Albanese said the measures would be proportionate and would target the most vulnerable.

"We want a policy that promotes resilience and capacity-building and reduces a reliance on government intervention," he told reporters in Canberra.

"It was a unanimous decision by the national cabinet today and had the support of all premiers and chief ministers."

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said while case numbers were low and isolation requirement was easing, the pandemic was not over.

However, he said the emergency response phase of the virus had passed.

"We will almost certainly see future peaks of the virus into the future, as we have seen earlier in this year," he said.

"It is a time, though, now to consider that we have other things that we can do to protect those most vulnerable people, and that is absolutely our key aim."

Prof. Kelly said the removal of isolation measures was a reasonable course of action.

"It is time to move away from COVID exceptionalism, in my view, and think about what we should do to protect people from any respiratory disease," he said.

"We can't look at isolation by itself. We need to look at those measures and the protections we have as well as other protections. It is important that we keep an option for a change to these settings in the future."

The prime minister defended the decision to end the pandemic leave payments, saying it was the right time for the change.

He said state and territory leaders supported the decision.

"It isn't sustainable for government to pay people's wages forever," he said.

"It was always envisaged that these measures were emergency measures that were put in place.

"The flu has existed, and health issues have existed, for a long period of time, and the government hasn't always stepped in to pay people's wages while people have health concerns."

Prof. Kelly said COVID-19 would be around for many years to come, and any response to the virus would be proportionate.

Some state and territory leaders, such as New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet, urged an end to mandatory isolation periods ahead of the national cabinet.

However, earlier on Friday, Australian Medical Association president Steve Robson blasted leaders who advocated for the scrapping of isolation measures.

"People who are pushing for the isolation periods to be cut are not scientifically literate and are putting the public at risk, and they need to understand that," he told the ABC.

"We're seeing a huge upswing in the numbers of COVID cases again. It's coming into the holiday season when people will be travelling around the world.

"It's a period of significant risk, and we're urging caution because we need to protect the health system."