“HR departments and industry need to look towards late August early September for relief,” Dr Coatsworth said. “My advice would be it’s better to have people out of the workplace for a couple of days and try to limit ongoing spread than it is to have your entire workforce come down with it,”
Hospital admissions have leapt by more 1000 in the past 10 days to 4000, with admissions forecast to rise across the country to well above 5000.
Australia’s chief health officers said in a communiqué issued on Friday that the effect could be similar to January’s BA.1 wave without further public health action.
The chief health officers warned BA.4 and BA.5 are “associated with increased immune escape” and so new cases among those previously infected with an earlier COVID-19 variant are likely. As well, reinfections may occur as early as 28 days after recovery.
“People who test positive to COVID-19 more than 28 days after ending isolation due to previous infection should be reported and managed as new cases,” the communiqué said.
The opposition said small business would be left supporting workers after the government ended the $750 pandemic payments to workers forced to isolate.
“What is Labor’s answer to workers who can’t pay their bills turning up to work anyway?,” the shadow minister for small business, Sussan Ley, said.
“Casualised industries are hit hardest by the public health restrictions and that means this cut to support will hurt Australian women most.”
The Morrison government had previously announced the payments would cease on June 30.
Call for targeted payments
The chief executive of the Australian Retailers Association, Paul Zahra, said discontinuing the leave payment “couldn’t come at a worse time”.
Mr Zahra called on the government to make a more targeted payment to support the most vulnerable workers who are required to isolate.
“We need to strike the right balance where vulnerable people forced out of work continue to be supported. What we don’t want to see is sick people coming back to work because they need the money,” Mr Zahra said.
Andrew McKellar, the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said businesses that were already short of staff would be particularly vulnerable to winter illnesses.
“This leaves understaffed businesses with little option but to reduce output or even close down temporarily,” Mr McKellar said.
“Worsening workforce shortages risk dragging down productivity and looms as a potential handbrake on the post-COVID recovery, along with soaring energy prices and inflation,” Mr McKellar said.
Woolworths and Coles said their stores and distribution centres were trading as normal, with rates of absenteeism well below the first omicron wave in January.
A Qantas spokesman said COVID-19 cases among its crew have increased recently. Additional crews on standby were helping minimise the impact on flights.
Dr Coatsworth said it was now accepted that the vaccines do not reduce COVID-19 transmission and called for an end to all workplace vaccine mandates.
“Early studies showed some blunting of transmission in vaccinated households, that effect was overwhelmed by the increased infectivity of omicron,” Dr Coatsworth wrote in The Australian Financial Review.
“Omicron effectively ended the workplace safety justification for mandates.
“If companies could previously claim that their mandates were an exercise of corporate social responsibility to limit burden of disease, that argument is now discordant with reality. It is not working age Australians who are finding themselves hospitalised with the virus.”
Expanded antiviral availability
The federal Health Minister, Mark Butler, announced an expansion of the eligibility for antiviral drugs in response to the predicted surge in cases.
“Antiviral treatments, taken as a tablet or capsule, help to stop COVID-19 infection from becoming severe – but they need to be started early after testing positive,” Mr Butler said.
Mr Butler said all Australians aged over 70 who test positive to COVID will be able to access antivirals on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Access will also be expanded to people aged over 50 with two or more risk factors for severe disease and for over 30s who are immuno compromised.
Despite Australia facing its biggest health challenge of the pandemic Mr Butler resisted calls for mandated health controls.
“We moved to a different phase of the pandemic. We’re beyond the emergency phase of seeing lockdowns and mandates and emergency payments,” Mr Butler told ABC TV.
“We really are at the point where there needs to be maximum information to the community so they can make informed decisions themselves.”
Over the weekend the federal government launched an advertising campaign pushing people to get their booster shots. Only 67 per cent of adults has had a third dose.
Mr Butler specifically pushed back on calls for a return to mask mandates.
“There’s no advice to me we should introduce broad-based mask mandates,” Mr Butler said.
“The chief health officers met in the last couple of days and there was no such advice given by them. In this phase of the pandemic mask mandates and things like that are best done in a targeted way. There’s mask mandates in aged care, in health facilities, on public transport, in airplanes.“