Australia Today

Australia Has Dumped Its Last COVID-19 Measures

Over the last two years, Australia has been home to some of the tightest Covid restrictions in the world.
Man wears mask on street
Photo by Brook Mitchell / Getty Images

Australians infected with COVID-19 will no longer be required to stay at home and isolate for five days, unless they work in health or aged care, as the government moves to a “non-emergency” phase of its pandemic response. 

Over the last two years, Australia has been home to some of the tightest Covid restrictions in the world. Its international borders were sealed for the better part of the last two years, and domestic travel only returned to some semblance of normality earlier this year. 


Now, the federal government has scrapped its last remaining public health order—and the support funding that came with it.

The changes will be rolled out in every state and territory from October 14, and see the Commonwealth’s pandemic leave payments wound up on the same day. 

People working in “high-risk” settings, however, like in aged care and health, will still be required to isolate, and continue to receive the pandemic leave payment, along with casual workers. Vaccine mandates, as it stands, remain unchanged.

At a press conference after a meeting of National Cabinet on Friday, Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, told reporters it’s time for the country to “move away from Covid exceptionalism” while acknowledging the virus hasn’t gone anywhere. 

“It does not in any way suggest that the pandemic is finished. We will almost certainly see future peaks of the virus into the future, as we have seen earlier in this year,” Kelly said.

“However, at the moment, we have very low rates of…cases, hospitalisations, intensive care admissions, aged-care outbreaks and various other measures that we have been following very closely.”

There have been more than 30,100 COVID-19 infections across Australia over the last seven days alone. In New South Wales, there are currently 1,057 people in hospital with the virus, with 24 of them in intensive care. In Victoria, there are 145 people in hospital with the virus, and 116 in Queensland. 


Neither prime minister Anthony Albanese nor professor Kelly couldn’t be drawn on questions about whether the payment would return in its current form should Australia need to undergo further quarantine through periods of heightened infectiousness, as was seen through winter. 

“But we have agreed today, based upon the advice, that we are moving beyond the emergency settings that were put in place. It isn’t sustainable for the government to pay people’s wages forever,” Albanese said. 

“It was always envisaged that these measures were emergency measures that were put in place, and what we have done today is take the advice from the chief medical officer, listened to that advice, and, therefore, changed the settings so that they are proportionate.”

In his letter to National Cabinet, professor Kelly said that while he backed a cut to isolation periods, Australia should prepare a “detailed” plan which would prepare the nation in the face of another surge in cases. 

The letter pointed to the high likelihood of “further waves of infection”, particularly over the next two years, as mask-wearing becomes more relaxed and new variants of the virus arrive in Australia. 

“It is highly likely that further waves of infection will continue to occur over the next two years at least. This is due to a combination of viral factors (continued genetic variation resulting in immune escape, higher transmissibility, and possibly higher severity), human biology (waning immunity from infection and vaccination), human behaviour (lower adherence to public health messaging including mask wearing, testing, staying home when sick and vaccine fatigue), and environmental factors (winter seasons and removal of remnant public health and social measures (PHSM) and test, trace, isolate and quarantine (TTIQ) measures),” Professor Kelly wrote.


“We may even see the emergence of a very different variant before the end of 2022.”

The change was broadly welcomed by state and territory leaders, who Albanese said made the decision to scrap isolation periods “unanimously”, after New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet had spent days before the meeting leading the push. 

On Thursday, Perrottet said Australia should move away from government mandates and instead adopt a looser model of personal responsibility, whereby “if you’re sick you stay at home, and if you’re not, you get out and about and enjoy life.”

Albanese made similar comments after announcing the decision on Friday, saying the government shouldn’t be “running every bit of people’s lives forever”. 

Hassan Vally, an Associate Professor in Epidemiology at Deakin University, said the timing of the move and whether in doing so the government is “marking the end of the pandemic” will no doubt be fiercely debated in the coming weeks. 

“What is important to recognise, however, is that the removal of isolation requirements and the winding back of emergency measures does not equate to ignoring COVID, and we should continue to respond to COVID as we do other infectious diseases that are a threat to public health,” Vally said. 


“As we’ve seen many times since 2020, things can change quickly when it comes to COVID, and we will need to ensure we do not drop our guard and that we respond appropriately and decisively should there be a change in the situation.”

So far, about 15,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Australia, since the beginning of the pandemic. The majority of those deaths have occurred in 2022, after state governments began relaxing some of the toughest restrictions in the world.

Independent MP for Kooyong, Monique Ryan, called for an explanation for the decision, which she said in a statement on Friday would see “many people” return to work while sick, and put children in harm’s way.

“It is deeply concerning that National Cabinet has essentially abandoned all the measures in place to minimise COVID-19 infection and reinfection,” Ryan said.

“Removing COVID-19 isolation will have significant impacts on our local and national economies and on workforces that are already struggling with absenteeism, both from COVID infection and reinfection and from the emerging public health crisis of long COVID.”

Australia is grappling with rising numbers of long-COVID, which hits between 10 and 20 percent of COVID survivors, at a cost of $3.6 billion to the economy every year. 

Australia announced a parliamentary inquiry into long-COVID earlier this year, as millions of people around the world continue to live with the lasting effects of COVID infection.

Others said the decision, in effect, shifted responsibility for the pandemic onto individual workers. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation assistant secretary, Lori-Anne Sharp, said the move risks widespread reinfection in the health system.

“It’s a risk to remove all COVID safety precautions that will lead to an increase in cases and place further stress on our already stretched health and aged care systems,” she said.

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