New South Wales and Victoria will scrap close contact isolation requirements for household contacts by this weekend, signalling the end of Covid restrictions after two gruelling years.
The seismic shift in pandemic policy comes as Premier Dan Andrews prepares to welcome unvaccinated patrons back to cafes, pubs and restaurants within a month – in line with NSW’s long-standing policy.
Another major change brought in by the federal government this week means international arrivals no longer need to get tested prior to departure, making it much easier for return travellers and tourists to enter the country.
Business leaders have been calling for the end of the seven-day isolation rule, saying it will ease staff shortages for businesses trying to recover from the pandemic.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant will address the media on Wednesday morning after the Covid and Economic Recovery Committee held a late-night meeting on Tuesday to consider scraping the rules.
Punters will soon no longer be required to show their vaccine status in hospitality venues, as the state joins NSW who scrapped the rule in December (pictured, party-goers last October)
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured on Friday) will soon join NSW and drop vaccine requirements for hospitality venues in his state
Senior Victorian officials have agreed to soon scrap the requirement which has barred patrons from hospitality venues since last October.
It comes as isolation requirements for household contacts of Covid-19 cases are due to be axed within days as the rate of new infections continues to fall.
Both NSW and Victoria are expected to abolish one of the last remaining restrictions, with the Omicron wave now past its peak.
It means people who live with an infected case will no longer need to isolate at home for seven days.
Instead, they will be encouraged to use rapid antigen tests, wear masks and avoid high-risk settings, such as hospitals and aged care homes.
There has been mounting pressure for isolation restrictions to be eased amid a critical labour shortage across Australia.
Isolation rules for household contacts are already exempt for various industries due to staff shortages, including teachers, aviation and airport workers.
MAJOR CHANGES TO COVID RULES IN NSW AND VICTORIA
ISOLATION REQUIREMENTS FOR HOUSEHOLD CONTACTS:
– The rule that requires people who live with an infected case will no longer need to isolate at home for seven days is due to be axed within days.
– Instead, they will be encouraged to use rapid antigen tests, wear masks and avoid high-risk settings, such as hospitals and aged care homes.
– Isolation rules for household contacts are already exempt for various industries due to staff shortages, including teachers and airport workers.
– Those who test positive to Covid will still need to isolate for seven days.
– The NSW and Victorian Premiers are believed to be working in tandem to announce the easing of isolation rules.
VACCINE REQUIREMENTS FOR HOSPITALITY VENUES:
– Pubs, cafes and restaurants will ditch vaccine requirements within a month, with punters no longer being required to show their vaccine status.
– Since October, unvaccinated residents have been banned from entering various venues unless they can prove they have had two doses of a vaccine.
– It’s understood vaccine mandates for some workers could also be scrapped, except in high-risk settings.
– NSW scrapped vaccine requirements for hospitality venues in December.
COVID TESTS FOR INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS:
– Overseas travellers no longer need to provide a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test before flying to Australia.
– Travellers must still provide proof of double vaccination with masks to remain mandatory on international flights.
– Those arriving on cruise ships must complete a Maritime Travel Declaration, to provide details on their health and other information.
NSW and Victoria are expected to abolish isolation rules for household contacts within days (pictured, punters leaving Randwick Racecourse on Easter Saturday)
Those who test positive to Covid will still need to isolate for seven days, with health chiefs not recommending this key rule is scrapped too.
Senior members of NSW’s COVID and Economic Recovery Committee met on Tuesday night to discuss a possible overhaul of restrictions.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard confirmed earlier in the day an overhaul of close contact isolation rules was being considered but need to be managed alongside ‘community health outcomes in the ongoing pandemic’.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and his Victorian counterpart Daniel Andrews are believed to be working in tandem to co-ordinate an announcement.
Mr Andrews also hinted on Tuesday that restrictions will end ‘very, very soon’ due to a welcome drop in daily cases.
‘The seven-day average, very pleasingly, is coming down. So that says to me that the peak has come and gone,’ he told reporters.
‘I’m not the chief health officer but that says to me that the peak has come and gone.
‘We just have to wait and see, though, that those few days of data turns into the trend that we hope it is.’
Those who test positive to the virus will still need to isolate for seven days (pictured, testing in Melbourne)
Government sources revealed Victorian health minister Martin Foley will announce changes to household contact rules and mask rules in the next two days which will come into effect by Saturday at the latest
The Victorian Chamber and Business NSW joined forces this week in a united call for household contact isolation rules to be overhauled to ease the burden on businesses.
‘Access to staff continues to be a major issue for business and the current isolation requirements are making it difficult for them to provide service for customers and maximise their business opportunities,’ Victorian Chamber chief executive Paul Guerra said.
‘We are seeing other parts of the world moving ahead with revised requirements, and we can use that experience to our advantage.
Business NSW counterpart Daniel Hunter added: ‘NSW and Victoria are Australia’s biggest economies and the current isolation rules are providing a barrier to businesses as healthy people are forced to isolate unnecessarily.’
‘With NSW airport workers currently having an exemption to the household contact rules, there is inconsistency and unfairness – this needs to be fixed so that all businesses can have fair access to workers in the current tight labour market and be open for business.
It comes after the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on Friday last week called for an easing of isolation requirements.
The hospitality sectors was among among many industries calling for an overhaul of isolation rules for household contacts
Cases in NSW have plummeted from an average 20,000 daily infections to 14,000 in the past week.
The state recorded 10,856 new cases and eight deaths on Tuesday as hospitalisations climbed past 1,600.
NSW opposition leader Chris Minns has called for possible Covid rule overhaul to be endorsed by the state’s chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant.
‘I recognise that this is a very difficult problem for the NSW government, if they’re proposing to make changes for close contacts within a household due to the significant amount of labor shortages within the economy and the significant disruption for communities,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said he was ‘looking forward’ to the close contact rule being abolished but said the decision ultimately lay with state and territory leaders.
‘We don’t make those decisions at the Commonwealth level,’ he said.
‘It is premiers who decide to shut cities down or open them up, not the Commonwealth government.
Australia recently announced it would axe pre-departure Covid-19 tests for those arriving in the country from overseas.
International arrivals were previously required to provide a negative test result 72 hours of boarding a flight, with this rule scrapped from Monday.
Isolation rules also created mass staff shortages at airports, sparking recent chaos (pictured passengers at Sydney Airport)