PM, leaders to meet over COVID-19 surge

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will hold a meeting with state and territory leaders to discuss the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country.

National Cabinet is expected to meet on Monday for a briefing on the latest medical advice and pandemic response. 

More infectious sub-variants of the virus are driving case numbers and Aged Care Minister Anika Wells expects it to be several weeks before the peak of the latest wave arrives.

The government outlined its response on Thursday to how aged care facilities would manage the rise in cases during winter. 

Following talks with chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly earlier this week, Ms Wells said the peak could continue into early August.

“He is as worried about this wave as he was in December about what became the January Omicron wave,” she told reporters on Thursday.

“We are leaving no stone unturned ahead of our response to this current winter wave.”

Ms Wells will meet with aged care providers from across the country next week in a bid to limit the spread of the virus in facilities.

The government’s winter plan in aged care is based around around an increase in vaccination, antiviral access, visitor and worker safety, infection control training and proactive engagement.

As of Wednesday, 819 aged care facilities across the country have an outbreak.

The weekly average of deaths in aged care has also risen, from 69 to 91, with 2141 fatalities in facilities so far this year.

The government is under fire for its decision to allow a scheme giving free rapid antigen tests to concession card holders to wrap up at the end of the month.

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns called on the federal government to also reinstate pandemic leave payments for workers who are forced to isolate because they have tested positive.

That scheme finished at the end of June and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the decision was made by the previous government.

“We inherited those cut offs across a range of decisions from the former government,” he said.

“We have added three months’ health funding for the state and territory governments … because the pandemic continues to have an impact.”

Health Minister Mark Butler said he regretted the decision, but said the payments had to come to an end eventually.

“Unfortunately, whenever an emergency payment arrangement is withdrawn or comes to an end, there will be an impact on the community, whatever time that was,” he said.

Mr Butler also said he was worried by misinformation about testing requirements.

“There is no change to the arrangements that are in place right through the pandemic,” he said.

“If you think you have COVID, if you have symptoms, if you’re exposed as a close contact anywhere in Australia, you can access a COVID test free of charge through the state government.

“I am concerned about misinformation that has been spread that there will be change to the free COVID testing arrangements in place for some time now.”

Aged and Community Care Providers Association interim chief executive Paul Sadler welcomed the winter plan.

He said while aged care facilities were better prepared than the previous Omicron wave, workforce availability remained a concern.

“The aged care system is already under extreme pressure from COVID, so every bit of help is needed,” he said.


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