The scrapping of COVID-19 isolation rules has come too soon after a string of major events that could lead to a spike in infections, doctors say.
The head of the Australian Medical Association’s Victorian branch likened the government’s decision to a game of pass the parcel, in which another layer of restrictions were removed despite the pandemic continuing.
At a national cabinet meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and state and territory leaders unanimously decided those testing positive to COVID-19 will no longer be required to isolate for five days from October 14.
While AMA Victoria president Roderick McRae welcomed the decline in case numbers in Australia, he backed calls to release the health advice that led to the isolation period decision.
“We need to have full transparency (about) how these decisions were made, because they’re purely a social call,” he told ABC TV on Saturday.
Dr McRae said any spike in COVID-19 infection rates from large events such as the AFL grand final and the Melbourne Royal Show would take weeks to show up.
“We actually know that it’s always about 15 days after an event that we start to see the consequences,” he said.
But Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Andrew McKellar welcomed the decision, which he said was made after balancing various factors.
“We think it’s a very important signal that we’ve turned the corner, that we are getting back to normal life, and that we can get on with business,” he said.
“If we do see signs that the public health situation begins to deteriorate again … then, of course, governments have to be prepared to go back and put appropriate measures in place.”
The end of mandatory isolation will also mean the end of pandemic leave payments for eligible workers.
However, the isolation period and payments will still be applicable for workers in high-risk environments such as hospitals and aged care.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation assistant secretary Lori-Anne Sharp said if more variants of the virus emerged there would be extra pressure on hospitals.
“We are concerned removing all isolation periods for the general community, particularly in the context of uncertainty regarding the emergence of new variants and potential waning immunity, will put further pressure on our healthcare systems,” she said on Friday.
“We believe the suggestion that COVID isolation is a matter of ‘personal responsibility’ is just a way of governments shifting their responsibility onto the individual when it should be theirs.”
ACTU president Michele O’Neil said the pandemic leave payments should remain, particularly for workers who don’t have sick leave benefits.
“Workers shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and isolating while they are sick with a highly transmissible disease,” he said.
“(The isolation) decision does however leave many thousands of workers without paid leave and not covered by support payments.”
Federal independent MP and former paediatric neurologist Monique Ryan also called on national cabinet to release the health advice that guided the isolation decision.
“Removing mandatory isolation for people with active infections will have a significant impact on our communities, our health systems and our economy,” she said on Friday.
“It is deeply concerning that national cabinet has essentially abandoned all the measures in place to minimise COVID-19 and reinfection.”