Is it time to end close contact rules?

As a new COVID-19 sub-variant XE emerges, business groups are calling for changes to close contact isolation rules in a push to allow allow people to live with the virus while keeping the community protected.
All states and territories require close contacts to isolate for seven days from the last time they were in contact with someone with COVID-19, but rules for testing vary across the country.

Employee shortages have led to the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Business NSW and other industry groups to plead for a relaxation of the rules to keep businesses staffed.

Infectious diseases expert Sanjaya Senanayake backed the move – but cautioned cases will increase if Australia follows the lead of overseas countries. (Nine)

Infectious diseases expert Sanjaya Senanayake said Australia could follow the lead of other Western countries and safely end the close contact isolation rule.

“We have a number of countries around the world – the UK, the US, Canada – who have allowed people who are close contacts of cases to go into the community, but to do so cautiously with mask, get tested if they get symptoms,” Dr Senanayake told Today.

“We can do it. We have to make it our own and do it safely.”

Dr Senanayake said Australia had reported 5.3 million COVID-19 cases this year and the true number of infections was “probably double that”.

“There are so much COVID in Australia at the moment,” he said.

“So, it isn’t unreasonable (to change the isolation rules).

“What we have to watch more is make sure new variants are found early and if they are particularly different and challenge our immune system, then we might have to change things.”

Dr Senanayake said ending the isolation restriction would likely result in a spike in cases.

“Thankfully this isn’t translating into higher hospitalisation rates,” he said.

“I think we just proceed cautiously.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21: A general view of the a COVID-19 testing clinic at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on January 21, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. NSW has recorded 46 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, marking the deadliest day in the state since the start of the pandemic. NSW also recorded 25,168 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hour reporting period. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
COVID-19 testing at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. (Getty)

But Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy suggested a more cautious approach.

“We have to look at the overall benefit because it could actually be worse in the end,” Dr Moy said.

“I understand the thinking behind, ‘Yeah, it makes it easy’, because people aren’t away from work because of being a close contact but the flipside is they could all end up being sick at the same time.”

As winter approaches, it’s not yet known how this year’s flu season could effect the response to the pandemic in Australia.

Dr Senanayake said there was data from the UK showing those who contracted the flu and COVID-19 at the same time faced potentially worse outcomes.

“In terms of caution, people who can get the flu shot – which is anyone over the age of six months – should get it,” he said.

“People who are eligible for their first booster or second booster should also get that for COVID-19.”

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