Australia’s most populous states will on Friday abolish a raft of coronavirus rules, including compulsory isolation for close contacts. Some vaccine mandates for key workers will also be scrapped. Health officials in New South Wales and Victoria say the overhaul to the rules is a “big step” and is part of a plan to “co-exist with COVID-19.”
The new policy is a major overhaul of coronavirus restrictions for more than half of the Australian population. Those who may have come into close contact with COVID-19 in the states of New South Wales and Victoria will no longer have to isolate for seven days. They must, however, wear a mask indoors and be tested regularly. They also need special permission to visit hospitals, nursing homes or prisons.
Many business leaders said the quarantine measures were too strict because they forced workers who weren’t infected to stay at home.
“We get to put COVID in the rear-view mirror and finally leave the baggage of restrictions, isolations, and check-ins behind us. It means that the maximum available staff will now be with us,” said Paul Guerra, chief executive of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce.
Health authorities in Australia say a recent omicron wave has peaked and that many restrictions can be lifted because more than 95% of the population has received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccination.
However, Nancy Baxter, a clinical epidemiologist at Melbourne University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that it is too soon to end mandatory isolation for close contacts.
“Politically, it is expedient for all of these things to be relaxed because it signals that COVID is over,” she said. “But, you know, the problem is COVID hasn’t gotten the memo that COVID is over and what we are seeing in Australia right now is we are seeing one of the world’s highest rate of new cases of COVID per day.”
In other parts of the country, including Western Australia and Queensland, quarantine rules remain in place for those who have come into close contact with confirmed coronavirus cases.
Australia has had some of the world’s toughest coronavirus restrictions, including strict lockdowns. For more than two years its international borders were closed to most foreign nationals.
According to government data, about 5.3 million infections and almost 7,000 deaths have been recorded in Australia since the pandemic began.