COVID exemption push for retail workers

Australia’s retail sector is urging national cabinet for isolation exemptions to be extended to staff in the industry, as the prime minister meets with state and territory leaders.

National cabinet will on Thursday discuss the state of the health system, following one of the deadliest days of the pandemic with 87 fatalities on Wednesday.

Isolation rules for workers in a number of essential sectors were expanded earlier this month, and now there is a growing push for retail staff to be added to the list.

The exemptions would allow workers to go back to their jobs after being at a COVID-exposure site, provided they test negative to the virus on a rapid antigen test.

Chief executive of the Australian Retail Association Paul Zahra said businesses in the sector were yet to pass supply chain issues that had been exacerbated by Omicron.

“We all have to learn to live with COVID,” he told ABC Radio.

“If you can expand isolation exemptions for certain groups, it makes sense to expand it further to other categories of retail.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has stepped up its push for international tourists to return to the country.

The chamber’s chief executive Andrew McKellar said such a move would be a way to boost the post-pandemic economy.

“We are urging government to get ahead of the curve, start talking to the industry about how quickly it can happen,” he told ABC TV.

“We do think in the weeks ahead, as the pressure comes off the health system, then the rationale for keeping these international border restrictions in place can be revisited.”

Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said more planning was needed to allow the international travel sector to recover following years of uncertainty.

“It’s extraordinary that three years into this pandemic there has been no planning done,” she told ABC TV.

“We need to look at sensible solutions and it would be helpful if we actually had a national government that was leading.

“My frustration and fear for today’s national cabinet will be that it will be just more of the same.”

It comes as Victoria recorded 13,755 new cases on Thursday with 15 fatalities from the virus.

In NSW, there were 29 virus-related deaths and 117,316 cases, with nearly 10,000 of those coming from PCR tests.

NSW on Wednesday became the first state or territory to surpass one million cases.

Infectious diseases expert Professor Robert Booy said while large numbers of people have been infected with COVID, rates were starting to go down.

“One of the big reasons new cases are going down, and not just plateauing, is because the virus is running out of people to find and infect,” he told the Seven Network.

“We are going to be seeing higher rates of hospitalisations and lots of stress to the system and intensive care occupied well into February before that starts going down.”


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