Two of Australia’s remaining COVID rules could be dumped as soon as this week, with national cabinet to discuss major changes to isolation and mandatory masks on domestic flights.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has led the way with a renewed push to cut isolation for people who test positive to COVID from seven days to five.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed isolation would be on the agenda when he meets premiers and chief ministers on Wednesday.
“Dominic Perrottet’s position has been very clear,” Mr Albanese told the National Press Club in Canberra, in a speech to mark 100 days since Labor’s federal election victory.
“One of the things that Premier Perrottet has done, he has raised the issue, he spoke to me about it last week. And the week before. It’s something that he has a position on that is very public.”
Mr Perrottet said in July he was keen to review the length of mandatory isolation for COVID, pointing to the likelihood of continuing outbreaks. But that push was knocked back as Australia’s last wave of the virus gathered pace.
On Monday, Council of Small Businesses Australia chief executive Alexi Boyd said a reduction to five days would help alleviate worker shortages, which have been exacerbated by the virus.
“It’s important that we move with the times with COVID,” she said in Canberra.
“There needs to be continual discussions around what is best for both the economy and for keeping people safe and healthy and also reducing the impact on the healthcare system.”
Ms Boyd said she would leave the time frame for the isolation period to health experts.
“Small businesses have followed the advice of healthcare professionals since the beginning and done what they can and will continue to do that,” she said.
Mr Albanese said there would be a further report from health experts to Wednesday’s meeting.
“But we’re looking, as well, in the longer term about what the nature of restrictions are. Over a period of time, they have been reduced,” he said.
“It is important that decisions are made which are right for the times. And in July we were at the period where you had the increase in the number of COVID infections.”
He said Australia’s hospitals were still feeling the strain, even as the latest Omicron wave continued to subside.
Earlier, Labor MP Patrick Gorman said a discussion about cutting the isolation period would go ahead if there was a co-ordinated move between federal, state and territory governments.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the leaders … these conversations will happen over the coming weeks,” the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister told Sky News.
“It was put forward a few weeks ago and people felt that wasn’t the right thing to do at that point in time. That may change at some point in the future.”
Elsewhere, the rule requiring masks on domestic flights is also expected to be on Wednesday’s national cabinet agenda.
In June, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee dropped its direction that masks be worn in airports. At the time, AHPPC said it didn’t consider the mandate for terminals “proportionate” as states and territories moved to relax mask-wearing rules .
However, it kept its direction for masks to be worn on planes, although it said it was under regular review.
In June, as Qantas dropped requirements for masks on some outbound international flights, airline boss Alan Joyce said he believed planes were probably the safest of any transport environment.
“You’ve got these HEPA filters on an aircraft that take out 99 per cent of all particles, including COVID-19, you’ve got the air that circulates every six minutes, you’ve got everybody facing in a forward direction,” he told Sydney radio.
International passengers are bound by the rules of the country they are flying into – meaning incoming passengers to Australia are still required to wear masks inflight.