The federal government is reportedly reversing course and looks set to maintain the $750 pandemic isolation payment after earlier announcing it was ending.
A snap national cabinet meeting to discuss the latest COVID-19 wave has also been brought forward by two days to Saturday morning by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
The fast-tracked meeting comes after the government came under increasing pressure to reverse a decision to end the emergency payments for people who have to isolate due to COVID but do not have sick leave.
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On Friday evening Mr Albanese tweeted that Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly would report to national cabinet on Saturday morning and “we will discuss proposals to ensure the vulnerable are protected over coming weeks”.
The meeting was to have been held on Monday.
On Saturday Mr Albanese will advocate for a time-limited reinstatement of the pandemic payment at the cabinet meeting as infections skyrocket and hospitalisations increase, Nine newspapers reported on Friday evening.
Australians are showing up for their booster vaccines before an expected spike in COVID-19 cases across the country.
The government has been under pressure to extend the pandemic leave payments and the free rapid antigen test program until the end of winter.
The head of the Australian Medical Association says he was surprised by the government’s decision to cease the payments, given people are still required to isolate if they test positive.
“The last thing you need when you have such huge numbers of cases around is for the government to pull its supports for people to do the right thing,” AMA national president Omar Khorshid told the ABC on Friday.
“Generally the government has extended the measures we continue to need because the pandemic is still here and affecting us.
“People are legally required to isolate for seven days if they’ve been infected with COVID-19 and that means they also need the support from government to be able to do it.”
Mr Albanese received a briefing on Australia’s current and expected caseloads from Professor Kelly and Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy on Friday afternoon.
“We know the COVID pandemic is not over and people should continue to act in accordance with the health advice,” Mr Albanese said.
The federal government would address issues that arose based on health advice, he added.
“We want to keep the economy open and the key to that is limiting the health impact on Australians,” he said.
Mr Albanese said there had been a big increase in the number of people getting COVID-19 booster shots and a rapid rise in the use of antivirals in the past week.
The government expanded eligibility for fourth vaccine doses to anyone aged 30 and over earlier this month.
As of Thursday, nearly 14 million people had received three or more COVID-19 vaccine doses, while almost three million people had received four or more.
The government has resisted calls from across the political spectrum, including from its own back bench, to reinstate pandemic payments for workers needing to isolate, saying national debt is too high.
Acting opposition leader Sussan Ley said on Friday night that the federal government had “caved to pressure” and criticised the prime minister for acting too slowly.
“Mr Albanese owes an apology to the tens of thousands of Australians who have faced stress and uncertainty in recent weeks following his decision to end those payments,” she said.
Greens leader Adam Bandt urged Mr Albanese to extend the payments as well as the free rapid test program for concession card holders.
“In light of the new strains, case numbers, health advice and strain on hospitals, the government should minimise spread by supporting sick people to stay home,” Mr Bandt said on Friday.
Australia recorded more than 43,000 cases and 66 deaths on Friday, with 4602 people in hospital.
© AAP 2022