READ National cabinet decisions on Covid response

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The National Cabinet met to discuss response to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, approaches to test, trace isolate and quarantine including the use of rapid antigen tests (RATs) and the vaccine rollout and booster programme.

National Cabinet will meet again on Thursday 20 January 2022.

Rapid Antigen Testing

National Cabinet noted that testing for people suspected to have COVID-19 or close contacts will continue to be provided for free through joint funding arrangements between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, utilising either PCR or Rapid Antigen Testing technologies.

National Cabinet noted that jurisdictions had placed significant orders for supplies of Rapid Antigen Tests with increasing numbers of tests available over coming weeks through state and territory clinics and the private sector. PCR tests continue to be available in all state and territory clinics with significant reductions in testing times across all jurisdictions.

National Cabinet agreed to the final arrangements for the Rapid Antigen Testing Concessional Access Program, funded jointly by the Commonwealth and states and territories.

Through the program, eligible Commonwealth concession card holders will be permitted to receive a maximum of ten free tests in a three month period with a maximum of five tests in any one month through participating community pharmacies. Eligibility will include people with a Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card, Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold, White or Orange Card, Health Care Card, Low Income Health Card.

Community pharmacies will be reimbursed a set amount for the unit cost of the Rapid Antigen Tests (which will be $10 plus GST per test initially, with ongoing review of unit prices). For each supply transaction processed for an eligible person under this program (minimum of 2 tests and maximum of 5 tests per transaction), an Administration Handling and Infrastructure (AHI) fee of $4.30 per transaction will be reimbursed to the pharmacy, consistent with current AHI arrangements under the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement. Community Pharmacies will be responsible for sourcing supply for the program as they do for non-subsided rapid antigen tests.

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Further implementation arrangements for the program will be published over the coming days following ongoing dialogue with the pharmacy profession.

The program to provide free Rapid Antigen Tests for concession card holders will become available through community pharmacies from 24 January 2022, noting that individual pharmacies will commence participation in the program as supply continues to become available in late January and early February 2022.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and close contacts should attend a state clinic for free testing and not go to a pharmacy to receive a free test.

Essential Workers – Close Contact Furlough Arrangements by Sector and Workforce Impacts

National Cabinet received a detailed briefing from Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury, Dr Steven Kennedy PSM on the impact of the Omicron variant on workforce availability.

Worker absenteeism due to symptomatic COVID-19 illness, identified asymptomatic infection and the required isolation of close contacts is impacting on critical supply sectors and supply chains across all states and territories.

The medical advice is that Omicron continues to show greater infectivity than the Delta variant, but with much less severity in terms of hospitalisations, ICU and ventilated patients. Given this it is important to continue to look at testing and isolation settings.

National Cabinet agreed to the importance of keeping critical sectors open and agreed to extend the furlough arrangements in place for food and grocery supply chain workers to other sectors.

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National Cabinet noted that the changes made to furlough arrangements for food and grocery supply chain workers is starting to improve supply chains.

Changes will be made as soon as possible, where they have not already been made under state and territory public health arrangements, to include essential workers in:

  • All transport, freight, logistics and service stations

Changes will be made shortly, where they have not already been made under state and territory public health arrangements, to include:

  • Health, welfare, care and support (including production and provision of medical, pharmaceutical and health supplies),
  • Emergency services, safety, law enforcement, justice and correctional services,
  • Energy, resources and water, and waste management,
  • Food, beverage, and other critical goods (including farming, production, and provision but not including hospitality),
  • Education and childcare; and
  • Telecommunications, data, broadcasting and media.

National Framework for Managing COVID-19 in Schools and Early Childhood Education and Care

National Cabinet agreed the National Framework for Managing COVID-19 in Schools and Early Childhood Education and Care. The Framework is based on six National Guiding Principles:

    1. ECEC services and schools are essential and should be the first to open and the last to close wherever possible in outbreak situations, with face-to-face learning prioritised*;
    2. Baseline public health measures continue to apply;
    3. No vulnerable child or child of an essential worker is turned away;
    4. Responses to be proportionate and health risk-based;
    5. Equip ECEC services and schools to respond on the basis of public health advice and with support from public health authorities where required;
    6. Wellbeing of children and education staff to be supported.