Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced the return of the $750 pandemic leave payments for casual workers and those without access to sick leave.
Staff who are unable to work owing to COVID-19 isolation requirements and have no access to paid sick leave will once again have be able to claim the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.
The $750 payments will be available until the end of September, will be back dated until 1 July 2022 and access to these payments will commence from Wednesday, 20 July, with existing eligibility requirements to continue.
The move comes after the Prime Minister came under mounting pressure from industry associations, unions as well as state and territory leaders, with COVID-19 case numbers once again rising sharply.
At a National Cabinet meeting on Saturday, the Prime Minister and all the state and territory leaders heard from Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, about the current state of the pandemic, with Australia seeing a new wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub variants.
The estimated cost of the extended pandemic leave payments is $800m with costs being shared 50:50, between the Commonwealth and the states and territories.
In addition, the Commonwealth Government will also reinstate the Crisis Payment – National Health Emergency (COVID-19) until 30 September 2022, with eligibility also to be backdated to 1 July 2022. This will ensure people affected by COVID-19 isolation requirements who receive an income support payment or ABSTUDY Living Allowance, and who are in severe financial hardship, continue to receive support through the winter period.
The Prime Minister said: “I want to make sure that people aren’t left behind, that vulnerable people are looked after and that no-one is faced with the unenviable choice of not being able to isolate properly without losing an income and without being put in a situation that is very difficult.
“What the payments will do is make sure that they’re in a position where they don’t have to choose between going to work or doing the right thing and isolating and protecting themselves and others.”
In addition, the National Cabinet is once again encouraging Australians to wear masks in indoor settings, practice good hygiene, test if they have symptoms and stay home when sick.
Australian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid said that if the current situation worsens mask mandates could be brought back.
He said: “I have called on the Premiers to make sure if they get strong recommendations from their experts to reintroduce mandates in certain settings then they should follow those, because that has been what has protected us so far through this pandemic.”
“If we get to a situation where mask mandates are required in order to slow the spread in the community, then that’s the decision the premiers should make and they should be supported by the Commonwealth government in doing that.”
The Prime Minister also said National Cabinet discussed whether the seven-day isolation period should remain in place.
He said: “We hope that we can restrict the spread of this virus, but it’s expected, from the indication from Professor Kelly, that we can expect an increase in the number of cases over coming weeks.
“We had that [seven day isolation] discussion, and the advice from the Chief Medical Officer was that now is certainly not the time for that to be reconsidered, it’s something that health officials will continue to look at.
“But given the increased spread of the COVID virus in recent times that we’ll see continuing, it’s expected to peak over coming weeks, now’s not the time to change those provisions which are there.”
The pandemic leave payment is also available for people who need to stay home and care for a person with COVID-19, including children under 16 or a person with a disability, as well as close contacts.
This article was written by Andy Young and originally appeared on The Shout.