Isolation rules to be cut despite increased community risk?

Health authorities are considering lowering the COVID-19 isolation requirements from seven days to just five to help fix growing staff shortages across many industries.

This is despite advice from chief medical officer Paul Kelly who warns that going down that path will increase the risk of community transmission.

“That’s very clear,” he said. “It is a decision of balance. It’s a decision about workforces and a trade-off with increased transmission in the community.”

Daily COVID cases now number in the tens of thousands with all parts of the economy affected.

As more and more workers are required to isolate after testing positive to COVID, supply chains are under pressure. The result has been empty shelves in stores, shortages of popular items and even purchasing limits.

Isolation rules had been relaxed from 14 days to seven for some essential workers in the grocery, warehousing and transport sectors. Workers in those industries can return to work if they have no symptoms and return a negative test. But the requirements have not been eased for the hospitality or retail sectors.

Read: Can you catch COVID twice? Or are you immune?

Now, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is flagging further changes to rules, saying the isolation period could be cut to five days for all workers.

“We’re keeping under review the isolation requirements that we have at present,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“I do note that a number of other countries around the world have actually reduced the isolation requirements, even for those who tested positive, from seven or 10 days down to five days.

“It’s important that we keep monitoring our settings, and it’s never set and forget. This pandemic changes.”

Read: Pfizer boss warns vaccines not effective against Omicron

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently introduced a five-day isolation period for positive cases, as has the European Union’s equivalent of the CDC, the European Centre for Disease Prevention Control (ECDC).

Worker shortages are causing chaos right across the Australian economy and business groups want to get isolation requirements down even further, scrapping them entirely if possible.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Andrew McKellar told the AFR: “Until close contact isolation requirements are relaxed for all workers, businesses will continually be forced to close or significantly reduce their operating capacity.

“It is likely that national cabinet will need to revisit close contact isolation protocols as long as acute staff absenteeism continues,”

Read: Government hopes COVID peak reached, but is it dreaming?

But the calls have drawn the ire of employee groups. Australian Council of Trade Unions boss Sally McManus has warned strike action may be inevitable if it emerges that workers are being forced back into jobs while still sick.

“It’s clear that Omicron requires a different response to the response we had in 2021 – that response needs to be a much bigger tightening of health and safety provisions in workplaces,” Ms McManus says.

“For those employers who will not work with us … the union movement will do what is necessary, up to and including ceasing work, in order to keep workplaces safe but also to stop the spread of the virus in our community.”

Do you think the five-day isolation period is enough? Or would you prefer the rules stay as they are? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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