Govt reverses plan to stop pandemic leave

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Unions, medical experts and businesses have welcomed the federal government's choice to reinstate the $750 pandemic isolation payment following widespread criticism.

Speaking after a fast-tracked national cabinet meeting on Saturday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said continuing the payment was appropriate with cases rising across the country.

"I want to make sure that people aren't left behind, that vulnerable people are looked after and that no-one is left with the unenviable choice of not being able to isolate properly without losing an income," he told reporters in Sydney.

The backflip means emergency payments for people who don't have sick leave but are forced to isolate due to COVID-19 will be reinstated from July 20 and last through to September 30.

The scheme originally lapsed on June 30.

The Commonwealth will split the $780 million bill with the states and territories but the prime minister could not say whether the payments would later be extended past September 30.

Both the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions welcomed the return of the payments, with ACTU secretary Sally McManus saying it meant workers didn't have to choose between isolating and putting food on the table.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said isolation payments should be in place for as long as they're needed.

"The payments should never have been removed," he said on Saturday.

Mr Albanese warned Australians of the $1 trillion debt his government inherited.

"We do need to act on this (debt) and all state and territory governments understand that as well," Mr Albanese said.

"The truth is that we have real fiscal pressures and the measures put in place were temporary measures."

Meanwhile, Dr Khorshid said mask mandates should also be considered as a new coronavirus wave hits the country.

State premiers and Mr Albanese all urged Australians to wear masks where necessary, practice good hygiene and isolate to help curb cases.

"The best thing that we can do, and it's not a huge inconvenience to us, is to wear these masks and go and get your booster," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

Mr Albanese also announced a new telehealth program will start next week, allowing GPs to spend longer with patients to assess their suitability for COVID-19 antiviral treatments.

Dr Khorshid dubbed this move an "important step" but was critical of the dozens of medical items no longer available bulk-billed via telehealth, including longer consultations.

A national crisis payment for anyone with COVID-19 and in severe financial hardship will also be reinstated through to September 30.

National cabinet was told cases across the country were expected to peak in August.

Acting opposition leader Sussan Ley said the government should be prepared to continue the payments beyond September if needed.

"We can't have this stop, start continue to happen so I hope the government is well prepared to take the action they need to," Ms Ley told ABC News.

Greens leader Adam Bandt has urged Mr Albanese to extend them as well as free RATs for concession card holders.

Australia recorded more than 40,000 cases on Saturday along with 77 deaths. There are currently more than 4700 people in hospital.

LATEST 24-HOUR COVID-19 DATA:

NSW: 11,082 cases, 38 deaths, 2024 in hospital with 66 in ICU

Victoria: 9982 cases, eight deaths, 802 in hospital with 34 in ICU

Tasmania: 1662 cases, two deaths, 138 in hospital with five in ICU

Northern Territory: 424 cases, one death, 61 in hospital with two in ICU

Queensland: 5795 cases, 22 deaths, 921 in hospital with 14 in ICU

South Australia: 3863 cases, three deaths, 287 in hospital with nine in ICU

Western Australia: 6473 cases, three deaths, 351 in hospital with 17 in ICU

ACT: 1104 cases, no deaths, 156 in hospital with four in ICU

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