Calls for Covid close contact isolation to be scrapped

Support has grown for the removal of mandatory quarantine of Covid close contacts as Australia becomes better equipped at living with the virus.

Strict close contact isolation rules should be relaxed as Australia moves into winter and becomes better at living with Covid, according to the country’s chief public health panel.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has recommended a nationally consistent approach to removing isolation rules for close contacts of Covid-19.

Part of its recommendation called on mandatory quarantine requirements to be replaced by other precautionary measures so as to mitigate “societal disruptions while also protecting the most vulnerable in our community”.

While a seven-day isolation period was deemed appropriate where necessary, the group suggested it be replaced following the peak impact of the BA. 2 wave.

Replacement measures would include things like requirements for frequent rapid antigen testing and the wearing of masks when leaving the house.

Working from home where feasible was another proposed replacement measure, along with limiting access of close contacts to high-risk settings, and close monitoring of symptoms.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet on Friday expressed support for the AHPPC’s recommendations, arguing in favour of relying as many Covid rules as reasonably possible.

“My view is we need to get to a point where, where you are sick, you stay at home, if you’re not sick you go to work and you go to school. That’s living with Covid and that’s where we need to get to,” Mr Perrottet told reporters.

“At the last national cabinet we had the AHPPC say that they would come back in relation to the proposal in respect of the relaxing of the close contact rules and I think that’s appropriate.”

He added he intended to work with other state premiers in determining the best path forward without strict isolation rules that are currently in place.

“I’ll continue to work with premiers, I’ve been in contact with the Victorian Premier [Daniel Andrews] in relation to this and that certainly makes sense,” he said.

Days earlier however, Health Minister Brad Hazzard said ditching close contact rules would be “counter-productive” and serve to undo Australia’s hard work in managing the pandemic.

“Here in NSW, we have led the way in terms of the response to Covid and we’re currently seeing a good balance of life, which is what we want,” Mr Hazzard said.

“I will be saying to the community, at the present time, that we should still exercise extreme caution, we shouldn’t be rushing forth to get rid of all the safety issues we know now.

“But we also need to understand removing all the restrictions around close contacts at this point, in my view and the view of [Dr Kerry] Chant, would be counter-productive.”

Mr Perrottet said despite Mr Hazzards “very strong” opinion, a decision would be made based on the state’s “best interest”.

“Let’s not forget we have 20,000 cases still each and every day. We have many people in hospital and in ICU. We need to keep people safe but balance that up with moving on and opening up,” he said.

“We’re going to push through and the faster we can get to a point where the close contact rule is relaxed the better.”

All states and territories currently require close contacts of Covid cases to isolate for a full seven days.

Close contacts are defined as someone who lives in the same house as a Covid case, has spent longer than four hours with someone in a home, health or aged care environment, or has been listed as a close contact by their state or territory health department.

Originally published as Peak health body calls for close contact isolation to be removed as Australia enters winter

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