Scott Morrison flags major Covid change as Omicron swamps Australia

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  • Scott Morrison
    30th Prime Minister of Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged the definition of "close contact" will change to ensure the most "consistent approach" to the coronavirus pandemic as possible across all states and territories.

Mr Morrison has brought forward next week's National Cabinet meeting to Thursday as Australia continues to see Omicron cases explode around the nation, with NSW recording 11,201 new Covid cases.

The definition and the availability of rapid antigen tests (RAT) will be on the agenda among other items, the prime minister said.

"The recommended definition, which is being considered by the medical expert panel and will be tomorrow presented, as we asked last week, to the National Cabinet by the chief medical officer, is a definition of a close contact, which is a household contact or a household-like, another accommodation-type setting of a confirmed case only," he said on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly during a press conference at Kirribilli House in Sydney on December 29, 2021.
Scott Morrison (pictured left with Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly) has flagged the definition of 'close contact' will change as the country battles an outbreak of Omicron. Source: AAP

Mr Morrison said redefining what a close contact meant would help determine what kind of test people needed to have and help ease the burden of the large volume of cases.

"We are going through a gear change when it comes to how we manage testing arrangements, the definition of close contacts, how we furlough staff and isolate people who are impacted by cases directly or as someone living in the same household that obviously has an impact on our health workforce," he said.

But the prime minister also said different approaches would be needed for each state and territory. 

"While here in NSW and in Victoria where we have high numbers of cases of Omicron, we are now seeing that start to materialise in Queensland and we will in South Australia and we will in Tasmania, and then of course there is the Northern Territory and ultimately Western Australia," Mr Morrison said.

"Now in states where there are very low numbers of cases the need to change things at this stage is not as great as they are here in NSW. 

"So to be applying exactly the same settings in all the states and territories would not match the reality of what's happening on the ground."

Mr Morrison said the proposal would see close contacts quarantine for seven days and they would be required to take a RAT on day six before going back into the community. 

Another RAT would then be performed at day 12, he added.

Labor lashes 'missing' Scott Morrison

The Opposition has launched an attack on the prime minister over his "lack of leadership".

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Morrison is "consistently passing the buck to state and territory governments".

"Scott Morrison refuses to step up. We have the NSW government trying to purchase rapid antigen tests that will be available... at the end of January when we have a crisis right now," he said.

"We have people that are waiting day after day, after day to get the results of the tests and we have some people who simply can't get tested so they are just staying isolated because there is some doubt over their health concerns.

"We need to do much better."

Shadow Minister for Health Mark Butler said Australians had again been relegated to the "back of the queue".

"We know that from around the world, these [rapid antigen] tests are widespread and readily available... across the country," he said.

"Yet again Scott Morrison has left Australians dangerously exposed and at the back of the queue."

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