News Coronavirus ‘Not as simple as that’: Anger at government’s COVID action

‘Not as simple as that’: Anger at government’s COVID action

COVID cases expected to break pandemic record

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The federal government is under fire for its response to Australia’s latest COVID wave – with one senator blasting the push to work from home, while unions demand the return of pandemic leave payments.

With COVID cases topping 40,000 across the country again on Wednesday, and hospitals buckling under a rising wave of patients, the government has defended its decision to scrap pandemic leave payments and free rapid tests for concession card-holders.

Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers said both mechanisms were designed to end at some point.

“To restart them would cost a considerable cost of money,” he said in Brisbane on Wednesday.

“We have tried to be upfront with people and say that some of these important programs that have existed in the recent past, which are designed to end in the near future, we can’t afford to extend all of them.”

But Australian Manufacturing Workers‘ Union National Secretary Steve Murphy accused the Albanese government of failing to protect essential workers.

“This Labor government said to essential workers that it had our backs. We need those words turned into deeds and not simply allow the cost of the pandemic to be pushed on to workers,” he said.

“Workers need access to free rapid antigen tests, paid pandemic leave and consistent messaging on the use of face masks.”

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie also lashed out after Health Minister Mark Butler urged Australians to work from home, while warning the latest COVID wave might not peak for six weeks.

“I don‘t know what Mark Butler is on,” Senator Lambie told the Nine Network on Wednesday

“Great, all the nurses, the aged care staff, no worries – work from home – no problem whatsoever.

“The reality is most people don‘t work for corporate jobs, mate – wake up, it’s not as simple as that.”

Pandemic leave payments for infected workers who have to isolate ended on June 30. Free tests for concession holders will finish at the end of July.

The program, which provided 10 free rapid tests to concession card holders every three months, was introduced in January at the height of the first Omicron wave when the tests were in short supply.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urged those eligible for the free tests to get them while the scheme was still active.

“I’d encourage concession card holders to go and get the 10 free rapid antigen tests that they’re eligible for by the end of this month,” he told ABC radio.

“On top of that, there are free rapid antigen tests available in aged care facilities across a range of areas.”

Mr Albanese said the end date for the free tests was set by the previous Coalition government.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said while the Coalition had set the end date to both schemes, the new government needed to review the situation using health advice.

“When we made decisions during the pandemic, you looked at the conditions that were on the ground at the time,” she told Sky News.

“We are seeing a new surge of a new variant of Omicron, we’re seeing our hospitals overwhelmed and our health systems overwhelmed by this particular wave, which is not dissimilar to the situation that we saw in December and January.”

Coral Princess docks in Sydney, with more than 100 COVID cases on board

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Elsewhere, the Australian Medical Association has blasted the Victorian government after state Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas admitted overruling health advice for mandated masks in some settings.

Ms Thomas opted to simply recommend masks, despite the Victorian deputy chief health officer wanting mandates in child care, schools, retail and hospitality amid the state’s surging COVID load.

The AMA’s Victorian president, Dr Roderick McRae, said Victorian hospitals were at “crisis point” and compulsory masks and extended isolation payments would help ease the pressure.

“While the government insists that people know what the right thing to do is, they’re watching while people are not doing the right thing,” Dr McRae said.

“Something has to change because the healthcare system is at breaking point.”

In Queensland, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has also ruled out mask mandates – but has urged Mr Albanese to call a meeting of national cabinet to discuss the surging caseload.

“I have already put out there to the Prime Minister that it would be good, I think, for national cabinet to get an update from the chief health officer if these cases continue to do this upward trend that we’re seeing,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Coral Princess cruise ship carrying more than 100 crew and passengers who have tested positive for COVID docked in Sydney early on Wednesday.

The ship with more than 2300 people on board, berthed at Circular Quay just before dawn. It will return to its home port of Brisbane on Thursday.

Passengers will have to record a negative RAT result before disembarking. The crew must remain on board.

The outbreak on the ship mostly involves infected crew members, with 114 in isolation on Tuesday.

Four passengers were also isolating after returning positive test results. Some 24 people got off the ship before it left Brisbane on Monday.

At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, another Princess cruise liner – the Ruby Princess – had a major outbreak of the virus that led to 28 deaths.

Australia’s latest 24-hour COVID data

NSW: 10,622 cases, 15 deaths, 2023 in hospital with 61 in ICU

Victoria: 11,176 cases, 20 deaths, 739 in hospital with 36 in ICU

Queensland: 7517 cases, 12 deaths, 859 in hospital with 14 in ICU

Tasmania: 1780 cases, two deaths, 106 in hospital with four in ICU

Northern Territory: 455 cases, no deaths, 43 in hospital with two in ICU

Western Australia: 6880 cases, six deaths, 320 in hospital with 10 in ICU

South Australia: 4408 cases, two deaths, 245 in hospital with six in ICU

ACT: 1345 cases, no deaths, 142 in hospital with four in ICU

-with AAP