News Coronavirus Govt defends COVID leave axing, ahead of snap national cabinet meeting

Govt defends COVID leave axing, ahead of snap national cabinet meeting

COVID isolation payments under discussion

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Health Minister Mark Butler says the government is monitoring the rise of COVID cases across the country closely, ahead of a snap national cabinet meeting next week.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will meet state and territory leaders to discuss the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country on Monday.

The meeting is expected to be briefed on the latest medical advice and pandemic response.

Mr Butler defended the end of the emergency isolation payments as case numbers across Australia rise due to new, more infectious subvariants of COVID.

“This is the time it was intended to come off, this is the time it needs to come off … we are looking to do everything we can to reduce incidents of severe illness,” he told ABC Radio on Friday.

“As you move to a new phase that doesn’t have the same level of mandates around people’s behaviour … inevitably you have to start looking at these very large emergency payments that have been coming out of the budget.”

Mr Butler said there were a “range of points” where a decision to potentially revisit the idea of a pandemic leave payment would come about.

He said it was a tough decision to end the payments as a third wave of the Omicron variant spread.

“There’s no end to the list of worthy, important things we could be spending the money on in the health portfolio, but there is an end to the money,” he said.

“The Australian community understands, and indeed wants, the country to move to a new phase in confronting this pandemic.”

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Mr Albanese said the payments would not return due to budget pressures.

He said many employees would already get paid leave from their workplace, if they were forced to isolate.

“The idea no one is getting sick leave at the moment is not the case,” Mr Albanese said on Friday.

“Good employers are recognising people are continuing to work from home while they have COVID and receiving payments through that.

“The [pandemic leave] payments were put in place by the former government with an end date, a decision they made at the time.”

While the government has laid the blame on the Coalition for the decision to end the payments on June 30, opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said clarity was needed on why the leave measures weren’t extended during the height of new infections.

“I would like the government to advise Australians of what was the basis why they thought it was a good idea now to remove these particular supports at the same time they’re telling Australians we’re about to be hit by another very serious wave of the virus,” she told ABC Radio.

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockcliff and NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns have called for an extension to pandemic leave payments.

Federal Labor MP Mike Freelander, who is a doctor, broke ranks on Thursday, urging Mr Albanese to extend the support measures.

“Anything we can do to slow the spread of the virus is very important,” Dr Freelander told The Australian newspaper.

“I’d like Anthony Albanese, when he gets back from the Pacific Island conference, to reconsider.”

There were more than 47,000 COVID cases and 78 deaths in Australia on Thursday, with 4512 people in hospital.

Elsewhere, Aged and Community Care Providers Association interim chief executive Paul Sadler welcomed the government’s winter plan to address the rapid spread of the virus in age-care home across the country.

He said while aged-0care facilities were better prepared than the previous Omicron wave, workforce availability remained a concern.

“The aged care system is already under extreme pressure from COVID, so every bit of help is needed,” he said.

-with AAP