31 December 2021

UPDATED: 'Close contacts' redefined; PM says we need to 'reset how we think about the pandemic'

| Albert McKnight
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Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison announced changes to the definition of ‘close contacts’ this afternoon after National Cabinet. Photo: Screenshot.

UPDATED, FRIDAY: After announcing changes to the definition of a ‘close contact’ of COVID-19, the nation’s leaders have further relaxed the testing rules for the virus.

On Friday (31 December), following discussions with health professionals the leaders removed the need for a rapid antigen test on day six for confirmed cases in isolation, a previous requirement that had been announced the day before.

“If confirmed cases remain symptomatic, they should remain in isolation,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

“Anyone with symptoms will continue to seek a PCR test.”

THURSDAY: The definition of a COVID-19 ‘close contact’ will change in five Australian states and territories tonight due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

National Cabinet met on Thursday (30 December) to discuss the issue before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced national leaders had agreed to a “practical” way forward to dealing with the Omicron variant of the virus.

He said the “gear change” would reduce pressure on PCR testing for COVID, free up health workers and reduce the number of people who need to isolate.

“We need to reset how we think about the pandemic,” Mr Morrison said.

“Omicron is a game-changer.”

He said the new variant had resulted in more cases, but there was increasing evidence of its lower severity.

The new definition of a ‘close contact’ will come into effect in the ACT, NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia from midnight tonight.

Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory will make their announcements in the coming days.

Under the new agreement, Mr Morrison said you are only a ‘close contact’ if you spend more than four hours with someone you live with who has COVID-19.

“Except in exceptional circumstances, a close contact is a household contact … of a confirmed case only,” he said.

“A ‘household contact’ is someone who lives with a case or hasn’t spent more than four hours with them in a house, accommodation or care facility setting.

“So, you are only a close contact if you are, effectively, living with someone or been in an accommodation setting with someone for more than four hours with someone who has actually got COVID – not someone who is in contact with someone who has had COVID.”

READ ALSO UPDATED: ACT confirms 253 new cases; NSW records 12,000; National Cabinet to discuss ‘close contact’ definition

A confirmed case must isolate for seven days from the date they took their test, then on day six. They must have returned a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) before leaving isolation.

A ‘close contact’ who is symptomatic must have a PCR test, but if they are asymptomatic, they must have a RAT, and if that returns a positive result, they must have a PCR test.

If a ‘close contact’ returns a negative test they must still isolate for seven days from the date of exposure and have another RAT test on day six.

Mr Morrison said this changes who needs to line up to get a test.

“If you don’t fulfil this definition of a close contact then there is no need for you to be in that line. You should go home,” he said.

“If you’re anything other than a close contact, and you’re not symptomatic, you don’t need to go and get a test.”

READ ALSO UPDATED: Police investigating protestors over Old Parliament House fire

He also said he hoped people would enjoy New Year’s Eve and look forward to the new year confidently, while also exercising “common sense”.

Speaking earlier today, Health Minister Greg Hunt advised New Year’s partygoers to “avoid the moshpit”.

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HiddenDragon6:09 pm 31 Dec 21

Yesterday’s announcement, reinforced by today’s change, was more of a quantum leap than a “gear change”, particularly “the complete abolition of the casual contact notion” (that’s a quote from the transcript of yesterday’s press conference), but that message may not be getting through – this webpage should essentially disappear, not be “reviewed and updated” –

https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/stay-safe-and-healthy/quarantine-for-casual-contacts

The other issue which shell-shocked health officials will need to get their heads around, and start explaining in a somewhat clearer and more coherent fashion, is the continuing purpose of the check-in system – unless they’re planning on putting a QR code at the entrance of every private residence in pursuance of the new “close contact” definition……..

Sher bee you probably won’t see this as I don’t use Facebook. But re your comment about mask wearing and one taking their own personal responsibility the issue with that is mask wearing for the most part minimises the wearer transmitting the virus rather than someone wearing a mask contracting it.

So the only way they work is if everyone wears one which of course would mean a mandate rather than personal responsibility.

Maybe the definition of a Casual Contact was too broad, but restricting Close Contracts to people you live with (> 4 hrs a day), is dead set crazy. With the exception of the wife, who shares my bed, I spend more time, in close proximity, with people at work than I do with other members of my household, yet they aren’t included in the Close Contact definition?

Today, > 21,000 cases in NSW. I’m guessing that equates to – say 30,000 Close Contacts under the NEW definitions?
What is the true number? I guess the person you work with goes home to a family and they then reclassify as a Close Contact, unless they are asymptomatic?

I think National Cabinet (which includes the States and Territories) agreed to redefine Contacts because it’s
just impossible to test these numbers and forcing all Contacts into isolation would shut down the entire country.

Outside of peak, NSW trains now operate on a weekend timetable. Exception of course for the Cricket, when full services will operate.

Kenbehrens,
Except you have to be wearing a mask with the people you are working with now.

And if someone at your work tests positive, you will still have to get a test and monitor for symptoms, just the quarantine requirmenents will be less onerous.

And once again, what you aren’t getting is the government has all the data on this and you don’t. Where and how transmission is occurring as well as what the limits of testing, tracing, health system capacities etc.

On what basis are you calling the government’s position “crazy”, when you don’t remotely have close to the information needed to have an informed position?

Today, case numbers in NSW and ACT doubled and yet today, a decision was made to further reduce the isolation period by one day, prompting the AMA to warn people may still be infectious. On the same day as numbers doubled, NSW announced that it was again scrapping QR Codes.
When NSW previously scrapped QR Codes, Dr Chant confirmed that that decision was political and was against her advice.
While you say I haven’t seen the data, we are
only hearing from politicians. We aren’t hearing from the Commonwealth and State CMOs.

NSW Deputy Premier has said that QR Codes and masks would start to be removed from 27th Jan.

Kenbehrens,
QR codes are only useful if you turn around the tests fast enough and have the contact tracing resources ro make it worthwhile.

20000+ cases is why those things won’t achieve anything.

And indoor mask usage will be determined by the numbers at the time.

I had my two mandatory vaccinations, so I’ll go where I want

I’ve read the definitions and according to the National Cabinet, I can no longer catch Covid at work, on the bus, in the supermarket, at the gym etc. I can only catch it at home, from someone who has Covid.
The exception is in Western Australia, where you can still catch Covid outside the home.
What I don’t understand is how did that person at home catch Covid? Did they go to Western Australia?

Kenbehrens,
It’s almost like the government has access to data around transmission rates, risks and how to most efficiently manage PCR testing and medical resources that you don’t.

Strange huh?

Chewy, it is far more around the latter part of your sentence regarding testing resources than it is about transmission, and that is [another] failure of risk management to go with the original vaccine purchasing debacle.

Phydeaux,
No it really isn’t.

It’s far more about the health system impact of Covid, particularly Omicron, that is proving (more data coming out daily) less infectious than previous strains. Particularly with our very high vaccination rates. So I don’t know how you could possibly bring vaccination into it, when our program was so successful.

If you want to blame health system problems, you’d be attacking the state and territory governments and their inability to run and fund their health systems efficiently.

Strange that, almost like you just want to blame the Feds because of the party that’s in power.

Chewy, risk management “debacle” is appropriate, rather than “highly successful”. People are dead and many more debilitated directly from AZ owing to a lack of alternatives, with AZ now openly admitted to be less effective and in need of urgent mRNA boosting to reach protection levels comparable with mRNA vaccines. Other countries acted on this while it was still being denied here. AZ was inflicted compulsorily on older people and encouraged for others solely to help manage otherwise inadequate supply (there was no medical basis for the restriction ex supply issues). Do not confuse eventual coverage with initial planning success.
States get their health money, like most of their income, from the Commonwealth, and national crises specifically engender Commonwealth intervention, unless you are merely blame-shifting. How well States manage their health systems in ordinary times is a legitimate matter for State-focussed critique.
Higher infection rates with lower fatality rates are not cause for happiness where the former change exceeds the latter, as appears strongly to be the case (population vaccinated or not).
Your final sentence is your prejudice regarding my views. Discuss merits rather than trying to poison the well.

Phydeaux,
The attacks on the extremely effective AZ Vaccine is the debacle. Many lives would have been saved if people didn’t play politics over it and if ATAGI had actually used the real risk of a widescale outbreak in Australia before limiting its use. Their decision has been proven wrong.

And I don’t know where you are getting the information that AZ was less effective, in real world actual use it proved to be at least as effective as the mRNA vaccines, in some ways superior.

“Do not confuse eventual coverage with initial planning success.”

Do not confuse unforseen difficulties in implementation with effective and agile shifts to deliver what can only be described as a very successful vaccination program.

“States get their health money, like most of their income, from the Commonwealth, and national crises specifically engender Commonwealth intervention, unless you are merely blame-shifting.”

This is completely false. The states run their own systems and can raise their own revenue and prioritise as needed. There’s definitely blame shifting occurring but most of it is from those trying to absolve the woeful state managed health systems to blame the Feds for political reasons.

If you said that ideally the Feds should be fully in charge, I would agree. But the states would never allow it.

“Higher infection rates with lower fatality rates are not cause for happiness where the former change exceeds the latter, as appears strongly to be the case (population vaccinated or not).”

Except it doesn’t remotely seem to be the case. Hospitalisations and ICU numbers have barely risen. Death rates are miniscule.

But if that does begin to change, governments of all levels can begin to slowly ramp up health restrictions to maintain capacity. We aren’t remotely close to that being required at the moment though.

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