Australia relaxes testing rules amid Omicron surge
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Australia has narrowed its definition of close contacts of coronavirus cases and relaxed requirements for COVID-19 tests, as daily cases topped 20,000 for the first time in the pandemic, in a bid to relieve pressure on testing sites. The country is grappling with the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant after most states eased tough restrictions, and like other countries, is betting on the highly transmissible variant being much less severe than previous variants.
The rules are being relaxed to stop asymptomatic people being forced into isolation, especially in healthcare, hospitality and airlines, and cut long lines of people forced to get PCR tests for interstate travel or because they have been at a public site with a confirmed case.
“With Omicron, we cannot have hundreds of thousands of Australians and more taken out of circulation based on rules that were set for the Delta variant,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. Daily infections have shot up from around 1,200 a month ago, when Omicron was first detected in Australia, to 21,329 this week.
From 31 December, Morrison said: “Close contacts will be redefined as people who live in the same household with an infected person. They would have to isolate for seven days and would only have to get a PCR test if they have COVID-19 symptoms. If you’re anything other than a close contact and you’re not symptomatic, you don’t need to go and get a test.”
The proposed rules mean health officials will rely more on at-home rapid antigen tests, while PCR tests will be used for people with COVID-symptoms and the vulnerable.
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