National Cabinet meeting to focus on reducing lines at COVID-19 testing sites

An overhaul of the country’s COVID-19 testing system and changing restrictions for close contacts of the virus will be the focus of tomorrow’s National Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister has announced.

Scott Morrison said the meeting of Premiers and Chief Ministers, which has been brought forward, will focus on reducing long queues at COVID-19 testing clinics and gauging the impact the Omicron strain will have on the nation’s health system.

“We will continue to see cases to rise but those cases are not translating into serious disease and are having a proportional impact on our hospital system,” Mr Morrison said

Scott Morrison said the National Cabinet meeting would determine a nationwide definition of a close contact. (Nine)

Mr Morrison said he intends to agree on a nationwide definition of what a COVID-19 “close contact” is at tomorrow’s meeting.

He hinted the discussion would result in reduced restrictions for people considered to be a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case.

The Prime Minister said the current system was “impractical” and the high volume of cases would lead to a large economic and medical impact of non-positive close contacts isolating as a precaution.

“You just have to monitor your symptoms, you have got to be conscious of where you are going, not the best idea to go and visit an aged care facility in that situation for a week or so,” Mr Morrison said.

“And also to take your normal precautions of wearing masks and things like this.

“This is how people responsibly manage their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others in the Omicron pandemic.”

Additionally, the Prime Minister will seek to gain a consensus across all states and territories as to when a PCR test is required compared to a rapid antigen test (RAT).

Currently all states and territories have varying requirements for the isolation rules around close contacts and when to seek a PCR test.

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The Prime Minister said that where a RAT is required, the cost will be shared 50/50 between the Commonwealth Government and the specific state government.

State governments will be responsible for securing the tests and the supplies that go with them.

The Commonwealth Government is currently “in market” to buy more rapid tests, with $375 million set aside to buy an additional six million tests.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said long waits to receive a PCR test and then even longer waits to receive a result was having the opposite effect to what testing was designed to do.

People queuing outside the COVID testing site on Bourke Street in Melbourne. (The Age)

“Frankly, if you have to wait for eight hours in a queue and then 72 to 96 hours to get a result, it’s not fulfilling any useful public health function,” Professor Kelly said.

“And it is delaying proper clinical care. So, really, what we’re trying to do here is to go for the best bang for the buck.

“Make sure that people that are queuing really need that test.”

Omicron less severe than Delta

CMO Professor Kelly said authorities knew the Omicron variant is less severe than other variants of COVID-19, but how much less severe is still “an open question”.

“Even in the UK, and the same here, we’re still seeing most of the cases in younger people,” Mr Kelly said.

“There’s still that little bit of doubt about what happens in older people in Australia in relation to Omicron.”

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