News Coronavirus Pressure on COVID payment move amid grim case prediction
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Pressure on COVID payment move amid grim case prediction

Australia's COVID wave expected to peak within days

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The federal government is resisting pressure to reinstate pandemic leave amid warnings of “millions of COVID” cases in coming weeks.

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns broke ranks with his federal Labor counterparts on Thursday, urging the Albanese government to reinstate disaster payments for people unable to work due to COVID infections.

“There needs to be an urgent rethink of the $750 for those who have been stuck at home with the COVID-19 illness,” he said.

“If you are a casual worker, and you must spend seven days in isolation, you may not have access to any funds at all.”

The Guardian was also reporting on Thursday that federal Labor backbencher and doctor Mike Freelander had backed Mr Minns. Mr Freelander told the outlet he had contacted Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Health Minister Mark Butler and Treasurer Jim Chalmers to raise his concerns,

The payments, which were also available to carers who had to stay home to look after someone who was sick, ended on June 30.

Aged Care Minister Anika Wells said the end date was “inherited” from the former Coalition government – and made more difficult because of spiralling national debt.

“In the broader context of an absolute mess of a budget – noting we are now paying for things like antiviral treatments that were not available last winter – it is best to put the money where the money is best targeted,” Ms Wells said.

“The [chief medical officer] says the best use of money is on vaccinations and antiviral treatments in aged care.”

Mr Albanese has also defended the move, as well as the decision to end free rapid tests for concession card-holders at the end of July.

“We inherited those cut-offs across a range of decisions from the former government,” he said.

“We have added three months’ health funding for the state and territory governments … because the pandemic continues to have an impact.”

Mr Butler said he “regretted” the decisions but the government didn’t have the capacity to continue with the emergency payments.

“This is going to have an impact on people in the community, I’ve made no bones about that and I deeply regret it,” he said.

“Unfortunately, wherever an emergency payment measure is withdrawn or comes to an end, there will be an impact on the community. Whatever time, whether that’s now, three months ago or in three months’ time.”

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff has also raised concerns, and has written to Mr Albanese.

“The ending of those programs is not the right time,” he said on Thursday.

“We’re all in this together. Tasmania is well and truly pulling our weight when it comes to supports for the community. We expect the federal government to do the same.”

Unions and the Australian Medical Association have both urged the government to reconsider the decisions.

Mr Minns rejected federal Labor’s defence and urged a rethink.

“This payment is probably the price that we need to pay in order to deal with living with COVID over the next 12 months,” he said.

“We have to make sure we make commonsense decisions to help people make the right personal care decisions so we can keep the community safe and protect our emergency departments over what will undoubtedly be a difficult winter period.”

Also on Thursday, Ms Wells unveiled the government’s winter plan for dealing with the COVID crisis hitting aged care.

She will meet providers from across the country next week to try to limit the virus’s spread, with an emphasis on increased vaccination, antiviral treatments and infection-control measures.

“We absolutely must remain on the front foot as we face this next wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms Wells said.

“Vaccination remains the best line of defence.

“It is critical for older Australians, and the people around them, to be fully immunised with the COVID-19 vaccine.”

While some states and territories have eased COVID-19 restrictions in aged care facilities, Ms Wells said she remained concerned.

“Of course I worry about [restrictions being eased], and who wouldn’t in my job? But I take medical advice, I take it very seriously,” she told ABC radio on Thursday.

“The chief medical officer is speaking to his state counterparts … to urge them to keep up mask mandates, even in aged care facilities.”

As of Wednesday, 819 aged care facilities across the country had COVID outbreaks. The weekly average of deaths in aged care with the virus has also risen, from 69 to 91, with 2141 fatalities in facilities so far this year.

Mr Butler warned on Wednesday millions of people would be infected with COVID in coming weeks, as new subvariants spread across the country.

Ms Wells said she wrote to state and territory health ministers asking them to continue to provide infection control training in aged care facilities.

“Basic infection prevention and control practices – mask wearing, monitoring for symptoms, not attending work if unwell – are of critical importance,” she said.

“Masks remain a key line of defence in aged care homes and other high-risk settings.”

Australia had 78 deaths with the virus on Thursday, and almost 48,000 new cases.

-with AAP