Australia is betting that its hospital systems can cope with a massive Omicron outbreak after several states agreed to significantly reduce COVID-19 quarantine requirements.
It is the condemnatory assessment by the country’s doctors of the changes that almost all jurisdictions adopted in the National Cabinet on Thursday.
Under the changes to take effect in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and ACT on Friday morning, isolation periods for COVID-positive cases and close contacts will be cut.
The definition of “close contact” has been streamlined to include only household or intimate contacts who spent more than four hours with a positive case.
And the country will rely more on rapid antigen tests, rather than more reliable PCR tests, to indicate infection status.
The Australian Medical Association said it was “very concerned” about the changes, which the organization claims are based on a not yet established beliefs about the Omicron tribe.
“It appears that the National Cabinet is prepared to bet that a massive Omicron outbreak will not cause a large number of hospitalizations,” said AMA President Omar Khorshid.
“While the initial data are encouraging, we expect hospital admissions to increase in the coming weeks, simply because of the very large number of cases, which will be far greater than the positive tests indicate, due to today’s decision.”
Dr. Khorshid has also criticized the change in the definition of close contact, saying it puts vulnerable people at risk.
“We will miss so many more cases with this new, narrower definition of close contact,” he said.
“Anyone who catches Omicron in a restaurant or pub, for example, and who is asymptomatic will not know that they are infected and can transmit the virus to more vulnerable people.
“The change will help maintain test capacity and should limit the number of health workers fired, but it will come at the expense of speeding up the outbreak.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the changes on Thursday as test clinics across the eastern states are struggling with extreme demand and massive queues, and resulting treatment times are burnt out.
Tasmania will implement the changes from January 1, and the Northern Territory and Western Australia will make announcements in the coming days.
Asked if the shorter isolation requirements would result in more deaths, Mr Morrison said he was convinced the new rules were the best way to deal with the more transferable variant.
‘Makes no sense’
Sir. Morrison said it makes no sense to keep the same answer for the Delta variant for the Omicron variant.
“If you are anything but a close contact and you are not symptomatic, you do not need to take a test,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“I know it’s a change from what’s been said, but dealing with Delta is very different from dealing with Omicron.”
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there is “no doubt” that Australia will have more cases.
“It’s about using the resources we have, sensibly,” he said.
– With AAP