COVID spike prompts calls to reinstate $750 relief payments
The Labor Government hasn’t backed down on its commitment to end pandemic leave payments despite a surge in winter COVID infections.
The payments - designed to compensate people who had to isolate and miss work when they had COVID - ended on June 30.
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People were eligible for up to $750 if they were required to isolate and couldn’t produce any income.
However, COVID cases are on the rise, with more than 70,000 new infections and 89 deaths reported across the country over the weekend.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions assistant secretary Liam O’Brien was concerned to see Federal Health Minister Mark Butler warning people about soaring case numbers and strains on the health system at the same time as the Government was cutting “vital supports”.
“This decision will result in more people going to work while they are sick and, unfortunately, will result in more people getting sick,” O’Brien told Yahoo Finance Australia.
“It should be reversed, with the payment reinstated at the same rate.
“If governments are asking people to isolate, then the Federal Government needs to support them to ensure they are not missing out on pay and falling behind on their bills while they do that.”
Hospitality industry groups have also voiced their concerns.
Restaurant and Catering Australia CEO Belinda Clarke told the SMH there would be an increased spread of COVID in the hospitality industry without paid leave, which would add to existing labour-shortage issues.
Butler defended the Government's decision to end pandemic leave payments citing the amount of debt his Government had inherited.
"There's no easy time to end emergency payments, that's the truth, but this payment was designed and budgeted by the former government - and all state governments - to come to an end on June 30," he said on Monday.
"If we extended these for a couple of months, we would have had this discussion at that time. These are hard decisions you have to make when you're $1 trillion in debt."
COVID antivirals now on the PBS
It comes as more Australians become eligible for a fourth vaccine dose and COVID antivirals.
An additional 7.4 million people will be able to receive a fourth vaccine dose. People over 50 are recommended to get the extra booster, while those over 30 are also eligible.
Australians over 70 who test positive for the virus will now be able to access antivirals on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme PBS.
Access will also be expanded to people over 50 with two or more risk factors for severe disease, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 30 with two or more risk factors.
Anyone 18 or over and immunocompromised may also be eligible.
Two antivirals are on the PBS: Lagevrio and Paxlovid.
Normally costing more than $1,000, they will be available from Monday for $6.80 for concession card holders and about $40 for everyone else.
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