The reinstatement of $750 pandemic leave disaster payments for certain workers will continue until the end of September, following a decision of the national cabinet at the weekend.
The prime minister had intended to honour the original sunset clause for the payments, which were due to lapse on 1 July.
But a virtual meeting of state and territory leaders convened by Anthony Albanese on Saturday said the payments should continue to respond to the ‘evolving situation’ and a marked uptick in COVID community transmission.
“Australia is beginning to see a new wave of COVID-19 infections, driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants, which will increase the pressure on our health system,” the PM said in a statement.
“In recognition of the risks associated with more infectious new variants through the winter period, the Commonwealth agreed to reinstate the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment to 30 September 2022,” he said.
Any person who does not have access to paid sick leave and cannot work because they must self-isolate due to a positive COVID result is eligible for the payment.
According to ACTU secretary Sally McManus, approximately 776,000 people missed work due to illness during the recent surge period in June.
“Bringing back Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments is very welcome and means that workers will no longer have to decide between isolating with the virus and putting food on the table for their families,” McManus said.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott also supported the move, describing it as a ‘common sense’ decision.
“A nationally consistent risk-based plan is the only way to let Australians live alongside the virus,” the BCA boss said.
“The emergency phase of this pandemic is over, so we’ve got to shift gear and manage the virus for the long term.
“We know that clear, consistent, risk-based action is the best way to maintain our economic momentum and keep people safe,” she said.
Eligible disaster payments will be backdated to the start of the month and can be accessed from Wednesday 20 July. And all existing eligibility requirements will continue.
The national cabinet agreed to share the cost of the disaster payments 50:50, with states and territories to foot half the bill. Political leaders also agreed to carry half the cost of existing Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) stocks to support the public health response.
The PM said the group was committed to working together on supporting all Australians impacted by the pandemic, and would continue to meet ‘as necessary’.
“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,” Albanese said.
“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.”
Hear from Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, on the latest on #COVID19 oral antiviral treatments and the expanded eligibility.
Learn more at 💻 https://t.co/M4gmHdMA1f https://t.co/I22WKnYvSN
— Australian Department of Health and Aged Care (@healthgovau) July 17, 2022
Decisions made by national cabinet will also mean GPs can spend more time consulting patients about oral COVID anti-virals. The commonwealth will create a new, temporary telehealth item to this end.
“This will enable those most vulnerable to COVID-19 to quickly access medical treatments and help ease the burden on hospitals,” the PM said.
Albanese said the states and territories also planned to deliver ‘consistent health messaging’ to all Australians about COVIDsafe measures recommended by the Australian Health Protection Principal committee, such as wearing masks indoors and regularly getting tested.