Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that heads of state and territory have agreed on a new, nationally consistent definition of close contacts.
Sir. Morrison said the National Cabinet had “agreed on a very practical way forward to deal with Omicron’s realities”.
“Omicron requires that we make a change in how we handle the pandemic, and we need to reset how we think about the pandemic and how we manage ourselves and the things we need to do as governments,” he said.
“Omicron is a game changer.”
Morrison said national plans had taken into account that some states and territories had few cases and others had major outbreaks.
He said there was a need to change the definition of a ‘close contact’ due to the fast speed at which Omicron spread.
Changes to the definition of close contact and periods of isolation
Sir. Morrison announced that a new definition of close contacts will come into place from midnight tonight across five jurisdictions, including NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT.
Tasmania will introduce the definition from January 1, while the Northern Territory and Western Australia will confirm in a few days, “how they will move to these new definitions”.
“A close contact is a household contact, or household-like, only in a confirmed case,” he said.
“A household contact is someone who lives with a case or has not spent more than four hours with them in our house, residence or care center.”
Close contacts must still be isolated for seven days from the date of their exposure.
An asymptomatic close contact should take a rapid test, while a close contact that is symptomatic or that returns a positive RAT test should have a PCR test.
Morrison said there was no need for anyone who did not meet the definition of close contact to take PCR tests.
The isolation period for confirmed cases has also been changed to only seven days.
“On the sixth day, you have a quick antigen test, and if it is (negative) after seven days, you can go back to the community,” he said.
The Prime Minister said further work would be done on the isolation requirements for those working in the essential health workforce, in geriatric care and hospitals.
“There are even more effective ways we can keep more people at work to support the health care system,” he said.
He said the AHPPC would bring further recommendations back to the national government meeting on Wednesday.
Quick tests available at test clinics
Sir. Morrison said rapid antigen testing would be provided publicly at test centers for COVID-19-positive people and close contacts for use where needed.
“So if you show up at these test centers for all the reasons I’ve listed, then you’ll either get a quick antigen test or a PCR test,” he said.
It comes after long test lines have been seen across the country.
“We hope that over the next few weeks it will significantly reduce the amount of people who will have these PCR tests, which means that we will be able to increase the processing time for these tests and get the results. back to those who have to take them, “Mr Morrison said.
Sir. Morrison said the government was also looking at providing RAT tests in other environments, such as health rooms.
Morrison said the government also looked at the supply of rapid tests in the private market, including pharmacies and supermarkets.
He said the government would not “suddenly go around and start giving these for free to anyone and everyone”.
“We will only provide them where we are advised to make them available, which is in close contact settings, for our elderly caregivers or in these high-risk environments,” he said.
For people who are not included in these options, Mr Morrison said they can buy them from supermarkets and pharmacies.
PCR tests scrapped for international arrivals
PCR test requirements for international arrivals have been scrapped in favor of rapid antigen testing in NSW.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet spoke with 2GB after the national government meeting.
Perrottet has announced that international arrivals will only have to do a quick antigen test when flying to Sydney.
“From our state’s perspective, in order to move away from overseas travelers who require to be PCR tested on return, we will go for a quick antigen test there,” he said.
“It will ease a significant pressure on the system.”
Covid-19 Taskforce Commander Lieutenant General Frewen said supply was not an issue with COVID-19 vaccination booster shots.
“There are currently three million doses of mRNA on the shelves,” he said.
“During the first two weeks of January, we will deliver an additional six million doses of mRNA to GPs, pharmacists and government centers. In addition, there are an additional 16 million doses of mRNA sitting in warehouses awaiting delivery.”
How Australia faced the emergence of the Omicron variant