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PM calls for Covid 'recalibration', touts reduced severity of Omicron

Scott Morrison says state and territory leaders have agreed on a "practical way forward" amid the growing number of Covid cases in Australia.

The National Cabinet has agreed on changing the definition of a close contact, to make it for people who are household contacts, or something similar in nature, of a confirmed Covid-19 case.

"You are only a close contact if you are, effectively, living with someone or have been in an accommodation setting with someone for more than four hours with someone who has actually got Covid," the prime minister said.

Close contacts will now have to isolate for only seven days after exposure, they will have to get tested on day one and day six.

Scott Morrison says the leaders around Australia have agreed on a new definition of a close contact. Source: AAP
Scott Morrison says the leaders around Australia have agreed on a new definition of a close contact. Source: AAP

If the close contact has symptoms, they will need to get a PCR test, if they are asymptomatic, they can take a rapid antigen test and if they get a positive result, they must get a PCR test.

The new definition will be in place from midnight tonight in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT.

Tasmania will follow suit on January 1 and the Northern Territory and Western Australia will make announcements in the coming days.

While South Australia is adopting the new definition, the state will continue to have close contacts isolate for 10 days.

Mr Morrison said the change in definition will mean less people will be lining up to get tested for Covid-19.

"If you don't fulfil this definition of a close contact then there is no need for you to be in that line," he said.

"You should go home. Go to the beach, go and do what you want to do. Read a book in the park."

In the coming weeks, state testing centres will hand out rapid antigen tests and they will only be free in some circumstances.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison holds a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders, at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, December 30, 2021
National cabinet discussed a consistent definition of a close contact and what role rapid antigen tests will play as Covid-19 cases spike across the country. Source: AAP

"Rapid antigen tests will be provided publicly at those testing centres for those who require one according to the rules," he said.

"For all other casual uses, that is what the private market is for."

On Wednesday, after the prime minister alluded to the change in definition for a close contact, Australian Medical Association President, Dr Omar Khorshid said redefining close contacts would "simply accelerate the outbreak".

"I’m confused @ScottMorrisonMP Omicron spreads more easily than any other variant. It doesn’t care if you are a family member, a coworker, a drinker in the pub or breathing the same air in a lift," he said.

"Isolating close contacts slows spread. Isolating less people means faster spread."

Prime Minister 'confident' in way forward

The prime minister said the Omicron variant is a "game changer" and said changes need to be made to ensure Australia is "recalibrating" in the right direction as we learn to live with Covid.

He said it did not make sense to move forward with "Delta settings" amid the Omicron outbreak.

The prime minister was then asked if he was confident the new rules would not lead to more undetected Covid cases and deaths.

"I am confident that this is the best way to manage the Omicron pandemic. That is what I am confident about," he said.

On Thursday, NSW reported 12,226 new cases, up from 11,201 on Wednesday, while in Victoria case numbers jumped to 5137 from 3767 the day before.

Victoria reported 13 deaths while NSW reported one.

There were also 2222 cases in Queensland, 92 cases in Tasmania, and 253 in the ACT.

There were 1374 cases in South Australia and the death of a Covid-19 positive child under the age of two. The child's death is being investigated by the coroner.

More to come.

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