New COVID rules changed again by National Cabinet

The prime minister has announced another change to testing requirements for COVID-positive residents as the government comes under fire over new COVID-19 protocols.

On Thursday, most of the nation’s leaders agreed to overhaul the definition of a ‘close contact’ and the testing process for those in isolation.

Australians in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT now only need to isolate for seven days if they are a close contact, defined as a household or intimate contact who’s spent more than four hours with a positive case.

Health industry groups questioned the decision not to provide rapid antigen tests (RAT) free or at least heavily subsidised to Australians, with confirmed cases required to test negative on day six before leaving isolation.

By Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the day-six RAT test would no longer be required if the COVID case was asymptomatic.

Any confirmed cases with symptoms should still remain in isolation.

The announcement followed “further consultation with the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Health Officers”, Mr Morrison said in a statement.

Tasmania will implement the changes on January 1, while Western Australia and the Northern Territory are still considering the proposals.

Federal Labor’s health spokesperson Mark Butler told reporters on Friday the decisions from national cabinet were already falling apart.

“Scott Morrison has decided to let it rip without giving Australians the tools that they need to keep themselves safe and healthy, particularly booster shots and rapid tests,” he said.

“The message to the Australian people yesterday from Scott Morrison essentially was, ‘you’re on your own’.”

State testing centres will hand out rapid antigen tests over the coming weeks, but tests will not be provided for free across the board, the prime minister said.

“Rapid antigen tests will be provided publicly at those testing centres for those who require one according to the rules,” Mr Morrison said.

“For all other casual uses, that is what the private market is for.”

Mr Morrison said private industry could now purchase RAT supplies “and not have any concern that somehow a new policy will come in and tests will be be handed out to anybody who wants one.”

But Dean Whiting, chief executive of industry body Pathology Technology Australia, whose members provide about 95 per cent of all PCR tests and 70 per cent of rapid antigen tests, says he never heard from the federal government.

The group has been calling for subsidised RATs for small to medium enterprises for months to help keep businesses open and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Mr Whiting said having certainty about the role of RATs was welcome, but not having at least a subsidised scheme was “counter to the best healthcare interests of Australia.”