Australian Economy

PM says he ‘wants to keep economy open’ after Covid briefing from top health officials

Calls are growing across the parliament for the Labor government to reinstate paid pandemic leave for people infected with Covid, with the Coalition, Greens and crossbench all urging prime minister Anthony Albanese to change tack.

Albanese has landed back in Australia, after returning from the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji, and will receive a Covid briefing from chief medical officer Paul Kelly this afternoon. Before departing Fiji, the PM again dug in behind his decision not to extend the pandemic payments, but opened the door to possible changes by noting “we’ll give consideration to all of these issues” at national cabinet on Monday.

Independent MP Sophie Scamps, an emergency department doctor and GP, called for the pandemic payment to be extended, and also suggested face mask mandates could help stem the tide of new cases.

She told Guardian Australia:

The pandemic support payment period should be extended so that people aren’t turning up to work sick and spreading the virus to fellow staff. We don’t want to see a repeat of the initial Omicron phase where so many businesses had to close due to staff shortages.

We know that wearing a mask, particularly indoors, is highly effective at reducing Covid transmission. However, we also know that enough people are unlikely to wear masks indoors unless it is mandated. It is a simple measure that could save hundreds of lives and prevent our hospitals and front-line health workers being completely overwhelmed and burnt out.

Another independent, Monique Ryan – a paediatric neurologist – tweeted: “Free RATs and extension of pandemic leave pay are vital to protect our most vulnerable.”

Coalition senator David Van tweeted his belief that Albanese “needs to stick to his word”, sharing a screenshot of a post from the PM in January saying “rapid tests should be free and available”.

Van said:

Labor has ended free RATs and Covid payments despite calls from major medical bodies to extend the instalments. The government can’t have it both ways – are they supporting Australians or not?

Social services minister Amanda Rishworth yesterday said the government had “no money” to extend the pandemic leave payments.

Greens senator Nick McKim responded: “Every time Labor says it can’t afford to do something please remember that the stage three tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefit high income earners, will cost over $200bn in the first eight years.”

Another Greens senator, Mehreen Faruqi, called the decision to end pandemic leave payments and concessional access to RATs are “irresponsible” and called on the government to “urgently reverse these decisions”.

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