Australians could soon find out more about COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements as national leaders meet to discuss the country’s Omicron response.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will convene an emergency national cabinet from Canberra and propose a nationally consistent definition of a close contact as case numbers and associated contacts skyrocket.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese told reporters on Thursday Australians wanted clarity from the national cabinet meeting.
He said people were anxious and worried about increasing cases and needed national leadership from the prime minister.
The chief medical officer will tell national cabinet on Thursday that a close contact should be defined as someone who has spent more than four hours with a positive case within a household setting.
Professor Paul Kelly would not elaborate on how the threshold was reached when asked on Wednesday if the virus’ transmissibility would put people who are together for shorter intervals in enclosed environments at risk.
“The important principle here is we need to focus on where the biggest risk is,” Prof Kelly said.
“(In) almost every jurisdiction we’ve seen a long wait for people to get their results. Frankly, if you have to wait for eight hours in a queue, and then 72 to 96 hours to get a result, it’s not fulfilling any useful public health function and it’s delaying proper clinical care.”
The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia said testing labs were running at capacity and staff were working under significant pressure with increased demand for PCR testing.
“Pathologists, scientists and laboratories are working to the highest levels to keep up with a volume of testing that would have previously been unimagined,” President Lawrie Bott said.
Mr Morrison told reporters on Wednesday a pivot to rapid antigen tests would mean there would be a seven-day quarantine period for close contacts which would end if the person posted a negative rapid antigen test on day six.
A second rapid antigen test would then be taken on day 12.
The push to more heavily rely on rapid antigen tests comes as states quarrel over the cause of long testing lines, with the NSW health minister accusing Queensland of “effectively perverting the purposes of pathology testing” as travellers clog up the already overwhelmed system.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said PCR tests needed to be reserved for close contacts and people who are feeling unwell.
“Not healthy tourists looking forward to a well-earned summer holiday,” he said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Wednesday announced the state would accept a negative rapid antigen test from travellers entering from hotspots from January 1.
It comes a day after the state scrapped controversial day-five PCR tests, which authorities conceded wasn’t “contributing in any way” to keeping the community safe.
Of the tens of thousands of travellers who have crossed state lines since the Queensland border reopened, 0.6 per cent have recorded a positive result in the day-five test.
The changes come as states continue to report record case numbers.
Some 12,226 new cases were reported in NSW on Thursday, up from 11,201 on Wednesday, while in Victoria case numbers jumped to 5137 from 3767 the day before.
Victoria reported 13 deaths while NSW reported one.
On Wednesday there were 1589 cases in Queensland, 1472 in South Australia, 138 in the ACT, 55 in Tasmania, 19 in the Northern Territory and two in Western Australia.