It’s official. Mandatory COVID isolation periods will be abolished from 14 October. Great news for many, but not everybody is happy with the decision.
After a national cabinet meeting late last week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced all states and territories would scrap the five-day isolation requirement for people who test positive for COVID-19.
There will be an exception in place for those who work in high-risk settings such as health and aged care.
“We are changing our position, based on changing advice and changing circumstances,” the PM told reporters on Friday at the post-meeting press conference where he also spoke with chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly.
Prof. Kelly said the time had come to treat COVID in a similar manner to any other infectious disease in the community.
“We will almost certainly see … peaks of the virus into the future, as we have seen earlier this year,” he said.
“However, at the moment, we have very low rates of both cases, hospitalisations, intensive care admissions, aged care outbreaks and various other measures.
“We also have, at the moment, very high hybrid immunity from previous infection, as well as high vaccination rates, particularly and specifically in those highly vulnerable communities: older people, people in aged care and people living with a disability.”
But Prof. Kelly also conceded that scrapping the isolation requirement was a political, rather than medical, decision and that the matter was not put before the Health Advisory Committee (HAC).
“We [the HAC] haven’t specifically discussed this matter,” Prof. Kelly said.
“I was asked what this advice [would mean] yesterday and I provided that as the chief medical officer to the Prime Minister.
“It was a unanimous decision by the national cabinet today and had the support of all premiers and chief ministers.”
It is still recommended that you stay home if you are experiencing COVID symptoms, as it is with other diseases, but the legal requirement to do so will be gone.
It is hoped that ending the isolation period will ease worker shortages across many industries, and allow supermarket shelves to once again be fully stocked.
But the move was immediately criticised by health professionals.
Professors Raina MacIntyre, Brendan Crabb and Nancy Baxter wrote for The Conversation that any boost to workforce numbers will be short-lived, and will ultimately be cancelled out by surging case numbers.
“At the current time, when cases are relatively low, removing isolation mandates will not materially benefit the workforce, but will make the workplace and schools less safe,” the professors say.
“Eliminating isolation rules provides the opportunity for governments to save costs. Without mandatory isolation support, payments for workers needing to isolate will end.”
Do you think it’s a good idea to end COVID isolation requirements? Is it time we got on with our lives? Let us know in the comments section below.