COVID rules update: PM announces major changes to isolation rules for close contacts working in essential industries as COVID cases soar

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More industries have been added to the list of essential workers now exempt from COVID-19 close contacts quarantine requirements, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

To further ease the pressure on crippling supply chains, the relaxing of restrictions for close contacts will allow more workers to go back to work after being deemed a close contact, provided they receive a negative result from a rapid antigen test.

Changes will see workers in transport, freight and logistics including those at service stations, healthcare and support all come under the “essential workers” umbrella.

Also added to the “essential” list are workers in emergency services including law enforcement, correctional services, energy, water and waste management, food, beverage and other critical goods supply not including hospitality, telecommunications, data, broadcasting and media, as well as education and childcare.

The changes were agreed upon by state and territory leaders during the latest National Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Spiralling numbers of Omicron cases have placed large swathes of workers out of action from their job due to either contracting COVID-19 or being deemed a close contact.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

The prime minister said the situation was a delicate balance of keeping people at work while also protecting the health system.

“We know what we have to … keep our hospitals going, keeping our health system strong and keeping as many people at work,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“The less restrictions you put on people to get them to work, the more pressure that could potentially put on your hospital system.”

Date set

It was also agreed concession cardholders will be able to access free rapid antigen tests from pharmacies from January 24.

The agreement from the National Cabinet would allow concession holders to have up to 10 free tests over a three-month period, with no more than five per month.

RAT supplies will then be prioritised to health and aged care sectors, symptomatic close contacts and vulnerable communities.

Mr Morrison said all decisions had been made to “minimise serious illness, hospitalisations and fatalities”.

Hundreds of thousands of extra workers will be allowed to return to work even if they’re a close contact of a positive COVID case.
Hundreds of thousands of extra workers will be allowed to return to work even if they’re a close contact of a positive COVID case. Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

It comes as more than 92,264 new infections have been reported in NSW on Thursday after residents rushed to post positive results from rapid antigen tests since the start of the year.

The dramatic rise in case numbers comes on top of another grim milestone as the state reported a record 22 lives lost in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday.

There were 37,169 new cases and 25 deaths in Victoria.

Queensland posted almost 15,000 new cases, while there were 3669 cases in South Australia, 1020 in the ACT – excluding rapid tests – 550 in the NT and 1100 in Tasmania.

– With AAP

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