Australia’s leaders are considering a simple, uniform definition of a COVID-19 close contact in the national cabinet

A single, nationally consistent definition of a COVID-19 close contact will be presented to the nation’s leaders today as health authorities seek to recalibrate their response to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

A rapid national cabinet meeting was convened as the country’s daily caseload exceeded 18,000 and the PCR testing process continued to be plagued by queues and delays.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the current test requirements for close contacts were no longer practical.

“If you honestly have to wait eight hours in a queue and then 72 to 96 hours to get a result, it does not fulfill any useful public health function and it delays proper clinical treatment,” Professor Kelly said.

“What we’re trying to do here is get the best value for money, ensure that people in line really need that test and are more likely to be positive.

“And so the correct information can be given and the correct public health and clinical action can be taken.”

According to the definition that will be presented to the national cabinet, a close contact will be a person who has spent four hours or more with a confirmed case in a household or household-like environment, such as a nursing home.

These contacts would only be required to quarantine for seven days and take a rapid antigen test (RAT) on day six.

The president of the Australian Medical Association, Omar Khorshid, took to social media to criticize the proposed change in the definition of close contact, arguing that it would only speed up the outbreak.

“Omicron spreads more easily than any other variant,” he said.

“It does not matter if you are a family member, a colleague, a drinker in the pub or inhaling the same air in an elevator. Isolating tight contacts slows down the spread. Isolating fewer people means faster spread.”

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Dr. Khorshid said the country’s leaders should instead focus on improving the availability of PCR and rapid antigen testing.

“Redefining close contacts will simply speed up the outbreak. I do not think one can call the NSW experiment a success yet. Let us not give up slowing the spread.”

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the nation’s leaders were undergoing a “gear shift” as they tried to address the impact of high coronavirus cases on the system.

“It is important that we continue to adjust and take as consistent an approach as we possibly can across all states and territories,” Mr Morrison said.

Morrison said that although PCR testing was once required to deal with the pandemic, the Omicron variant posed a very different challenge, forcing nation leaders to reconsider when rapid antigen testing was more appropriate.

“These RAT tests, they are also a valuable commodity,” he said.

“They are in much larger supply, but we need to make sure they get to the people who need them the most.”

The faster-acting tests have been in the spotlight in recent days, with supermarket and pharmacy shelves empty and states expressing their frustration over supply problems.

Morrison said the Commonwealth would pick up 50 percent of the cost of the rapid tests that states purchased, but he said state governments were ultimately responsible for securing and distributing the tests.

He said the government had set aside $ 375 million in additional funds for 50 million new rapid antigen tests to arrive in January.

They will go into national storage and be used in federal settings such as geriatric care, but can also be sent to states that need them urgently.

“There are many other supplies available in the private market right now that can also be pulled on,” he said.

“This will be a problem that will run during this year. And the production of these tests is a bit different than vaccines because there are many more suppliers.

“And so we are very active in the market, [and] has been for many, many months. “

Anthony Albanese in black suit and tie wearing glasses stands at a microphone in front of a red background with a Labor logo
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese criticized the Prime Minister for not acting earlier.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

Federal Labor seized the case on Wednesday, accusing the prime minister of “disappearing into action” while abdicating responsibility for supply issues.

“Scott Morrison and his government are once again showing a lack of leadership and consistently passing the money on to states and territories,” said Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

“Why is there no problem too big for Scott Morrison to show how small his vision for this country is?”

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