September 30, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier

Mandatory isolation for those testing positive for COVID-19 will cease from October 14, following a unanimous decision by Australia’s state and territory and federal leaders at a National Cabinet meeting this morning.

The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment will also end on this date, with targeted financial support to be made available to casual workers in high risk settings including aged care, disability care, aboriginal healthcare and hospitals.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly confirmed the Prime Minister had asked for health advice on removing the isolation requirement yesterday and he had given it. The issue had not been discussed by the national health advisory committee.

“I’d like to stress that this is a context-specific and time-specific set of recommendations,” said Kelly of his advice to National Cabinet.

“It recognises that we are in a very low community transmission phase of the pandemic here in Australia.

“It does not in any way suggest that the pandemic is finished.

“We will almost certainly see…peaks of the virus into the future as we have seen earlier this year.”

It’s all about context

Kelly said context was important for decisions around the management of COVID from a public health perspective.

“Isolation itself cannot be seen in isolation,” he said.

“It needs to be seen in the context of that high vaccination rate, high previous infection giving further protection, the availability of treatments, the availability of vaccines, including the new bivalent vaccines, and all of the other measures we have in place particularly to protect vulnerable people close to where they are.”

Bivalent vaccines target multiple strains of COVID-19 – there is now a bivalent Moderna vaccine available in Australia as a booster shot, which offers protection against both the original strain of COVID as well as the original Omicron strain.

“It’s time to move away from COVID exceptionalism in my view and we should be thinking about what we do to protect people from many respiratory disease[s],” said Kelly.

“It does not mean we have somehow magically changed the infectiousness of this virus.

“It is still infectious but in the context we are in at the moment in Australia – and this is an important epidemiological point – we can’t just look at isolation by itself. We need to look at all of those measures and the protection we have as well as other protections.”

Advice may change

Kelly said the current recommendation may change in future.

“That’s the work National Cabinet has requested of us to do, to keep that vigilance for new variants, for example, for changes in the epidemiological situation in Australia, for signs that we have strain on our health care system and be prepared to make different decisions at that moment.”

“But for now…I believe that removing the isolation period at this time is a reasonable course of action from the public health point of view.”

There has not yet to be any official guidance about how long people should stay home if they test positive for COVID-19 after mandatory isolation ends, however Kelly suggested peak infectiousness was considered to last two or three days and anyone with symptoms should assume they were infectious.

What could it mean for business events?

The removal of rules around COVID isolation mean the business events industry will have to decide how to direct customer-facing staff members who test positive for COVID and whether to offer financial incentives to casual staff to prevent them from working at events while they are ill.

Communications with delegates may also have to be adjusted, should business events organisers wish to preclude those who currently have COVID-19 from attending gatherings to prevent major spreading events.