PM defends end to pandemic leave payments

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has defended the scrapping of pandemic leave payments, laying the blame at the feet of the previous government.

The payments for workers who needed to spend time away from work while they isolated ended on June 30.

However, there have been calls for the payments to be reinstated as COVID case numbers and hospitalisations increase across the country, driven by new, infectious sub-variants.


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Mr Albanese said he wouldn’t bring back the payments due to the need for the government to rein back spending.

“We inherited the former government’s decision on this and we also inherited $1 trillion of debt,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“They are circumstances which my government faces … there are a range of things we would like to do, but we intend to be fiscally responsible in how we deal with issues.”

As case numbers rise across the country, Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said hospitals could hold back some elective surgery due to the strain on the system.

He said the emergence of influenza for the first time in three years in Australia had also made the issue worse.

“All of that together has caused issues in our hospitals, and so (postponing elective surgeries) is a pretty standard thing to be done at this time of year during the winter season,” he told ABC TV on Tuesday.

“With this increase now in the new variant of COVID, that has exacerbated that problem.”

Health Minister Mark Butler said a rise in infections still had a long way to go.

Mr Butler indicated COVID-19 cases are not likely to peak nationally for at least four weeks during this third wave of infections.

“All of the modelling indicates that case numbers and hospitalisations have further to go over probably the next four to six weeks,” he told Melbourne radio 3AW on Tuesday.

The prime minister said he would be receiving his fourth vaccine dose on Tuesday, following a recent decision to extend the eligibility for second COVID booster shots.

While case numbers have increased and calls have grown for mask mandates to return, Mr Albanese said he would follow health advice on the issue.

“Mandates on those issues, of course, are a matter for … state governments around the country,” he said.

“We will continue to take advice on these issues by health experts, and we’ve acted on all the advice that has been given during the pandemic.”

Prof Kelly said the rising number of reinfections had thrown a curveball for handling the virus.

“The new BA.4 and BA.5 (Omicron variants) are more infectious and there is strong evidence that you can get reinfected earlier,” he said.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has recommended the reinfection period be reduced from its current 12 weeks to 28 days, following the rise of cases of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

This means people will be required to get tested and isolate if they re-develop symptoms 28 days after recovering from the virus, and could be reported and managed as new cases.

NSW and Western Australia have already followed suit.

LATEST 24-HOUR COVID-19 DATA:

NSW: 10,806 cases, 20 deaths, 2049 in hospital with 58 in ICU

Victoria: 10,627 cases, 16 deaths, 737 in hospital with 39 in ICU

Tasmania: 1812 cases, one death, 100 in hospital with two in ICU

Queensland: 6768 cases, 15 deaths, 860 in hospital with 12 in ICU

ACT: 1174 cases, no deaths, 140 in hospital with three in ICU

© AAP 2022