From Friday, you will no longer be legally required to isolate at home if you have tested positive with COVID-19.
This is probably the most significant shift in COVID-related public health policy. Because it means you’re essentially free to go shopping, ride the trains and planes, attend family gatherings or even go to work.
However, if infected, you’re still legally required to wear a mask when indoors.
There has been no suggestion this will be enforced, except in hospital and health care settings, where everyone, infected or not, is required to wear a mask.
Of course, your family and workmates won’t thank you for heading out into the wider world. Nor would your fellow shoppers or commuters be happy knowing they were mingling at close quarters with an infected person.
Public health officials are urging you to stay home and get tested if you have symptoms, and to wear that mask if you head out.
But again, you won’t be compelled to do so outside of your own sense of personal responsibility.
Think of others
This week, the New South Wales chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant urged people “to continue to look out for one another”.
She offered the following advice:
- Stay home if you have cold or flu-like symptoms, get tested and if you must head out, wear a mask
- If you have COVID-19 you may be infectious for up to 10 days, but you are most infectious in the two days before your symptoms start and while you have symptoms
- If you have to leave the house while unwell, wear a mask when indoors and on public transport, avoid large gatherings and indoor crowded places, and don’t visit high-risk settings, such as hospitals and aged or disability care facilities for at least seven days
- If sick, talk to your employer about when you can safely return to the workplace, with the risk to be managed under occupational health and safety frameworks
- In high-risk settings such as hospitals, disability and aged care facilities, staff should only return to work after seven days, subject to their own work, health, and safety assessment, and if symptom-free
- Registration of a positive rapid antigen test (RAT) will no longer be mandatory, but Dr Chant asked people to continue the practice voluntarily – for the sake of connecting older people and the immunocompromised to medical care
- Close contacts of positive cases are most at risk of catching the virus so if you are a close contact, monitor for symptoms.
Dr Chant said it was important “we continue to think of others, especially those most vulnerable and the best thing people of all ages can do to protect themselves remains to make sure they are up to date with their COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations”.
Is lifting mandates a good idea?
This week change.org started a petition calling for “the existing mandatory isolation period for those infected with COVID-19” to remain in place.
The petitioners quote Australian Medical Association president Professor Steve Robson: “All the signs are that we’re looking at another wave of COVID.
“I think people who are pushing for the isolation periods to be cut are not scientifically literate and are putting the public at risk, and they need to understand that.”
Professor Brendan Crabb, a microbiologist and chief executive of the Burnet Institute said: “It’s disappointing, a pretty dark day actually. You know, it’s illogical and uninformed. For me, I find it distressing.”
Dr Monique Ryan, former director of neurology at the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital and now independent federal member for Kooyong, has publicly called on the national cabinet to release all health advice provided to them that was used to inform the decision to scrap mandatory COVID isolation.
She said: “The public have a right to know how and why this decision was made.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the petitions had been signed by 10,734 people.