To reduce labor shortages and strain on testing facilities as the Omicron variant spreads, Australia on Thursday drastically narrowed the category of people ordered to isolate after being in contact with a virus case.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that starting Friday, residents of four states with high coronavirus numbers — New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the Australia Capital Territory — would be tested and have to isolate only if they lived with someone who had tested positive, or had spent more than four hours with a Covid case.
Previously, anyone who had been at the same venue at the same time as a coronavirus-positive person had been required to take a P.C.R. test and to isolate while awaiting the result.
“We cannot have hundreds of thousands of Australians or more taken out of circulation based on rules that were set for the Delta variant,” Mr. Morrison said. “We need rules for the Omicron variant.”
Daily case counts in Australia have topped 20,000 for the first time in the pandemic. The surge has driven thousands of people to line up for hours at testing centers, with some waiting up to six days to receive their results.
In the state of South Australia, the authorities announced that a child under the age of 2 had died after contracting the virus. The cause of death was being investigated.