More than two years after the pandemic began, rules and regulations are changing again for Australians. After several ‘waves’, the last significant peak was in July, when more than 12,000 cases were being reported across the country each day.
As of early October, case numbers are at around 1600 per day. As a result, state governments and the national cabinet are winding back restrictions, including the need to stay at home for five days if you test positive for the virus.
For example, you no longer have to wear a mask when you board public transport or fly on a domestic flight.
Take a look at some of the latest updates.
Face mask rules in Australia
In NSW, people over the age of 12 are required to wear a face mask:
- at a public hospital or private health facility (including private hospitals and day procedure centres)
- in residential care facilities or hostels.
You may also be asked to take a rapid COVID test before entering one of these facilities.
In Victoria, face masks are required for everyone aged 8 years and above in the following settings:
- while visiting a hospital, care facility or any other indoor space that is publicly accessible in a healthcare setting, including allied health settings
- while working in an indoor space that is a publicly accessible area of a court or justice centre
- while working in a resident-facing role in an indoor space at a care facility, including when not interacting with residents
- while working in an indoor space at a prison, police gaol, remand centre, youth residential centre, youth justice centre or post-sentence facility
- after being tested for COVID-19 and awaiting results
- while outside your premises, if you have COVID-19 or are a close contact and are permitted to leave your premises.
In Queensland, face masks are still required in indoor spaces that are, or are part of, a:
- residential aged care facility
- shared disability accommodation service
- healthcare setting where face-to-face services are provided
- corrective services facility
- detention centre
For WA, masks must be worn by people aged 12 years and older in the following high-risk settings:
- Hospitals and health care settings including:
- Aboriginal health services
- Dental and optical health clinics
- Allied health services such as physiotherapy, radiology and occupational therapy services
- Aged care facilities, residential care facilities including disability service facilities and mental health residential facilities
- Correctional facilities
South Australians must wear masks in:
- health care services
- disability care facilities
- residential aged care facilities
- correctional services, prisons, training centres, and other places of custody
Face masks rules have applied for people who are household contacts or who have contracted COVID. However, these are currently being updated due to the changes in mandatory isolation rules. Check the guidelines for your state for the most up to date information.
Isolating at home
It was announced at the start of October that state and territory leaders unanimously decided that anyone who tests positive to COVID-19 will no longer be required to isolate for five days, starting from October 14.
There are some exceptions. As reported by SBS, “While COVID-19 isolation rules will be lifted for the general public on 14 October, the rules will still apply to employees in vulnerable settings such as hospital workers and those in aged care.”
When announcing the change, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was quoted as saying, “There’s not a role for government in running every bit of people’s lives forever”.
Ending mandatory isolation for general workers will mean no more pandemic leave payments for those who fall ill with COVID and have to stay off work.
The feedback has been understandably mixed. Business representatives say it is a welcome change and will help get more people back to work.
Meanwhile, others have raised concerns about what will happen to infection numbers when people who have COVID are allowed to move around in the community. Australian Medical Association president Steve Robson warned that dropping the requirement for COVID patients to isolate for five days could potentially lead to new waves of infection. This will put further pressure on hospitals and can cause stress for people who are trying to manage other medical conditions.
Medical experts are reminding people to get their booster vaccination if they have not done so recently. There is also pressure from the Australian Council of Trade Unions to keep pandemic leave payments in place, particularly for those who cannot claim sick leave.
If you are sick, it is important to stay away from work, no matter what you are unwell with. However, the change in regulations allows people to make their own choices about isolating or wearing a mask. This could change again if there is a significant rise in infections.