Paid pandemic leave extended indefinitely

·3-min read

Paid pandemic leave for COVID-19 positive workers will be extended indefinitely, national cabinet has agreed.

The payments for infected people off work were set to expire at the end of the month but will remain in place as long as mandatory isolation periods are in effect.

The extension follows a national cabinet meeting between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and state and territory leaders on Wednesday.

Mr Albanese said the payments would be shared 50-50 between the Commonwealth and states and territories.

"We remain obviously of the view that if people are sick, whether from COVID or from other health issues, they should not be at work and that is important," he told reporters in Sydney.

"The government has a responsibility to provide support during that period for the appropriate period which is designated."

More than $2.2 billion in pandemic leave has been paid since the scheme was implemented.

People will only be able to claim the payment three times in six-months unless they can argue extraordinary circumstances.

Since July 2022, 2.6 per cent of all claims for paid pandemic leave triggered real-time fraud checks by Services Australia, with more than half of those rejected.

In the six months to June 2022, 60 per cent of payments were to people who claimed more than once, Services Australia data shows.

Of those, 12 per cent claimed four or more times.

Pandemic leave was due to expire at the beginning of July but was extended to September following backlash and a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Mr Albanese said isolation periods of five days for COVID-19 cases and seven days for workers in high-risk settings would remain in place.

The prime minister said a decision to lower isolation period requirements was not discussed in detail at national cabinet but was likely to be raised when leaders meet in person at the end of the month.

"What we are seeing is gradually a move towards COVID being treated like other health issues," he said.

"The risk factors have changed as people go out and get themselves vaccinated."

Victorian independent MP Monique Ryan called for a summit on the management of COVID-19.

Dr Ryan, who worked as a medical researcher and paediatric neurologist before entering parliament, said she was concerned mitigation strategies to combat the virus were being rolled back.

"There's a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the fact that the government seems to have been winding back the mitigation strategies ... without really a plan for how this is going to affect people going forward," she told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

"The reality is COVID is still with us ... pretending that it's going away or that it has gone away, it's just not working for people."

Dr Ryan said a summit could examine how coronavirus infections should be handled in coming years, amid concerns the upcoming northern hemisphere winter will see more sub-variants emerge.

The prime minister said he respected Dr Ryan's views.

"Chief health officers throughout the jurisdictions are working very hard on all of these issues including examining long COVID ... (and) the potential of what will occur in the northern winter," he said.