Starting October 14, people who test positive for Covid will no longer have to self-isolate, following a unanimous decision by the national cabinet on Friday.
The decision has divided epidemiologists, with some arguing it’s safe to remove mandatory requirements, while others say it will only increase cases.
Here’s everything you need to know about what you can and should do now:
What is changing?
As of October 14, Australians who have tested positive for Covid will no longer have to self-isolate at home for five days.
The change in public health rules will be implemented by state and territory governments.
However, people working in high-risk settings will not be able to return to work for five days after testing positive, and the official health advice for all workers remains for people to work from home or avoid going to work if they test positive. positive. and have symptoms.
The difference is that as of October 14, most workers will not have access to pandemic leave payments. The national cabinet announced that pay will end for all except workers in high-risk settings, which include the elderly care, disability care, Aboriginal health care and hospital care sectors.
What was behind this decision?
Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said ending mandatory isolation periods was “a reasonable approach” that “recognizes that we are in a very low community transmission phase of the pandemic”. He said it was time to end “Covid exceptionalism”, where it is treated very differently from any other infectious disease, but he left the door open to reverse the decision, saying health advice can change.
In his letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Kelly wrote that removing isolation requirements “would not detract material from Australia’s response to the pandemic.”
He cited high underlying immunity within the population, as well as access to antivirals, as reasons behind the changes in health advice.
What do I do if I test positive?
Some epidemiologists have recommended that people continue to self-isolate if they test positive. Professor Michael Toole of the Burnett Institute says that if you test positive and have symptoms, it’s safer to “isolate yourself for at least a week”.
“A large study in the US found that after five days, 50% of people were still infectious,” he says. “At 10 days, virtually no one was infectious.”
What if I have Covid and need to go to work?
If you’re a casual worker and can’t afford to miss shifts, wear a well-fitting face mask when you return to work, says Toole.
“If you work at a local bakery[and] say you’ve tested positive and you’re not sick, you have to tell the owner ‘I’m going to wear a mask for seven days,’” he says.
How do you know if you are still infectious?
The best way to find out if you can leave the house without transmitting the virus is by taking a RAT test, says Professor Catharine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University.
“Recent studies tend to suggest that they are not as good at detecting the early stages of infection, particularly in people without symptoms,” says Bennett.
“The best use of RATs is to tell you when you are no longer infectious.
“If you tested positive and avoided socializing, avoided work and have no symptoms, if you get a swab and it comes back negative, you’re probably fine.”
What should workplaces do to protect employees?
To keep everyone safe, workplaces need to follow the advice of health departments and make sure sick people stay home, says Bennett.
“If they’re still infectious, it’s still much smarter, it’s still wiser, to have them work from home if they can,” she says.
“Still, it will be important to manage the risk of infection in workplaces.”
She says the best thing people can do is wear a mask in crowded places and practice social distancing when possible.
“All those things that everyone has learned in the last three years are still important,” says Bennett.
He warned that hard and fast public health rules may be needed if cases surge again.