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NSW pushes rethink on COVID isolation

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A push has been revived for Australia’s leaders to consider cutting the isolation period for COVID cases as the nation’s latest Omicron wave winds down.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has flagged putting COVID isolation back on the agenda when national cabinet next meets on August 31.

He previously raised shortening isolation from seven days to five, and wants Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as well as his state and territory colleagues to look at it again as spring approaches.

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“Given where we are we should have a national approach … that’s more beneficial than states going their own way,” Mr Perrottet said on Monday.

Most Australian states and territories relaxed isolation requirements from 14 to seven days at the end of last year as the first Omicron wave increasingly sidelined workers, constraining services, businesses and supply chains.

The US recommends a five-day isolation period for COVID-positive cases, while infected people in Britain are not legally obligated to self-isolate.

More than 150,000 people are still classified as active cases across Australia, down from 380,000 in late July, and subject to COVID-19 isolation orders.

University of South Australia epidemiologist Adrian Esterman said it was too early to shorten mandatory isolation.

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“Two-thirds of people are still infectious after five days,” he said.

Mr Perrottet said Australia’s pandemic response must evolve along with the virus, but support for workers should remain regardless of the isolation period.

“If the state government, federal government, mandate isolation and deprive people of their living, the [government] should compensate them, and I’m not resiling from that point,” he said.

Reducing the isolation period was raised at a national cabinet meeting last month. It did not get the backing of medical experts ahead of the BA.4/5 Omicron variant wave’s expected peak.

“The advice that is there from the chief medical officer, Professor [Paul] Kelly, was that now is certainly not the time for that to be reconsidered,” Mr Albanese told Adelaide radio station FIVEaa on July 18.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews agreed, declaring mandatory isolation would be abolished at some stage but it wasn’t the “right thing to do” in the middle of winter.

In a statement on Tuesday, a Victorian government spokesman said: “We will consider the advice from AHPPC (Australian Health Protection Principal Committee) on isolation periods and consider any changes they recommend.”

Australia reported more than 11,000 COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths on Monday. It is on track to record its 10 millionth infection within a week.

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Australia’s latest 24-hour COVID data

NSW: 5567 cases, 32 deaths, 1928 in hospital with 49 in ICU

Victoria: 3638 cases, 25 deaths, 433 in hospital with 26 in ICU

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