Anthony Albanese will bring back the $750-a-week pandemic leave disaster payment despite previously vowing to scrap it.
The prime minister made the extraordinary backflip on Saturday announcing the payment would be extended until September 30.
‘I want to make sure that people aren’t left behind, that vulnerable people are looked after,’ he said.
‘That no-one is based with the unenviable choice of not being able to isolate properly without losing an income.’
Mr Albanese held an emergency national cabinet meeting, which was brought forward from Monday, as the latest Omicron variants sweep through Australia.
The disaster payments will be reinstated with crisis payments and cost just under $800million – with the price to be split between federal and state governments.
‘Going forward, the states and territories have agreed that this payment will be covered 50-50 on a shared cost with the states and territories,’ Mr Albanese said.
The prime minister has also encouraged face masks to be worn in crowded indoor settings and insisted the seven-day isolation period for positive cases will remain – despite NSW premier Dominic Perrottet placing pressure on him to reduce it.
Mr Albanese announced the isolation period was necessary to combat surging Covid cases, but made no mention of bringing in extra measures as he admitted rising influenza cases were also having a big impact on hospitals.
Anthony Albanese will bring back the $750-a-week pandemic leave disaster payment despite previously vowing to scrap it
The prime minister made the extraordinary backflip on Saturday announcing the payment would be extended until September 30
Australia recorded its worst May on record with 65,770 confirmed influenza cases – more than double the number set before lockdown in 2019.
Health experts warned the previous lockdowns had weakened resident’s immune systems and made them more vulnerable to the virus.
Mr Albanese has vowed there will be a ‘consistent national approach’ in dealing with the Covid pandemic going forward.
‘The Commonwealth will meet with the states and territories in the national cabinet approach every two to three weeks,’ he said.
‘All of the premiers and chief ministers as well as the Commonwealth understand that we need to get the health outcomes right in order to protect people’s health and also to protect our economy.’
‘When you get the health outcomes right, you protect jobs and protect the economy. We are all committed to that. The really positive thing as well today is [we are] working towards a much more consistent national approach.’
A temporary Telehealth system will also be introduced to connect GPs with patients who need to access oral Covid antivirals.
‘We want to make sure that antivirals can be administered where appropriate and in order to do that, this temporary telehealth facility is appropriate, it is appropriate it be established,’ Mr Albanese said.
Mr Albanese had previously shut down calls from premiers and unions for the disaster leave handouts to be continued after they ended on June 30.
He argued the $1trillion national debt he ‘inherited’ from the Morrison Government and the ease of most Covid restrictions meant the payment was no longer beneficial.
It’s understood many federal ministers supported bringing back the Covid isolation payment for those having to self-quarantine.
‘We should move on it. Do we actually want people to work when they’ve got Covid?’ one minister who wished to remain anonymous told Fairfax earlier on Friday.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet on Friday said he would push for the seven-day mandatory isolation period for Australians struck down with Covid to be reduced.
One option, which would be subjected to the advice of medical experts, could see those who test positive self-quarantine for five days or less instead of a week.
Mr Albanese held an emergency national cabinet meeting, which was brought forward from Monday, as the latest Omicron variants sweep through Australia
Casual workers who have to isolate with Covid will be able to access a $750 payment as Anthony Albanese temporarily reinstates it
‘Ultimately, we have to get to a point where if you are sick you stay at home and if you are not sick you can go to work,’ Mr Perrottet told News.com.au.
‘I think we need to look at the periods of time in which we are forcibly requiring people to not be able to work and provide for their families.’
Mr Perrottet said if mandatory isolation periods were to continue the Federal Government has a responsibility to compensate casual workers.
‘My view is this: if we’re going to have the state take away people’s liberty and they can’t work well then the state needs to compensate,’ the Premier said.
Mr Albanese had earlier stood firm in cutting the $750 weekly payments for workers in isolation, despite criticism from casual employees its removal will cost them vital income.
‘The idea no one is getting sick leave at the moment is not the case,’ he said on Friday morning.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet (above) said he would call for the seven-day Covid isolation period to be discussed at Saturday’s emergency national cabinet meeting
‘Good employers are recognising people are continuing to work from home while they have Covid and receiving payments through that.’
He added it was also the Morrison Government’s plan to cut the payment and he was simply fulfilling that plan.
Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff, federal Labor MP Mike Freelander and other Labor backbenchers joined Mr Perrottet in calling for the payments to be reinstated on Thursday as Covid cases rise.
However, Health Minister Mark Butler said the government was closely monitoring the situation but saw no need to continue the payments as restrictions ease.
Casual workers, specifically in hospitality and retail sectors, called for the $750 Covid isolation payment to be reinstated to help make up for vital lost income
‘There’s no end to the list of worthy, important things we could be spending the money on in the health portfolio, but there is an end to the money,’ he said.
‘The Australian community understands, and indeed wants, the country to move to a new phase in confronting this pandemic.’
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus also criticised the initial decision to scrap the payments.
‘When you have a whole lot of people sick, the economy is sick … You can’t on the one hand say people have to stay at home and on the other hand say you are not going to get paid and you are left with nothing,’ she told Nine News.
‘It is abandoning people and not the Australian way, we have to fix it.’
Australia recorded more than 43,000 cases and 66 deaths on Friday and there are currently 4,602 people in hospital with the virus.