Most of Australia will relax isolation rules for close contacts of coronavirus cases and recognize the results of rapid antigen tests in the face of surging omicron infections.
Five of the country’s eight states and territories will from Friday allow close household contacts of confirmed cases to isolate for seven days, and then leave after receiving a negative rapid antigen test, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“With omicron, we cannot have hundreds of thousands of Australians, or more, taken out of circulation based on rules that were set for the delta variant,” Morrison said. “What we’re dealing with is a different variant that has a high volume with lower severity illness.”
Previously, most Australian states would only accept the results of the more-reliable PCR tests — short for polymerase chain reaction — instead of rapid antigen tests. Close contacts of confirmed cases were required to isolate for as long as two weeks.
The move is similar to those in nations such as the U.S. and Italy, which are also easing restrictions to keep essential services running and take pressure off health systems. The state of Tasmania will implement the changes Jan. 1, while Western Australia and the Northern Territory are considering the proposals.
New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, on Thursday reported a record 12,226 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours, and hospitalizations reached the highest level since mid-October. Victoria state recorded 5,137 new infections.