Australia relaxes testing rules amid Omicron surge

Australia sought to relieve pressure on overrun COVID-19 testing facilities on Thursday (December 30) by narrowing its definition of close contacts of infected people and relaxing requirements for tests, as daily cases topped 20,000 for the first time in the pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that from Friday (December 31) “close contacts” will be redefined as people who live in the same household with an infected person.

They would have to isolate for seven days and would only have to get a PCR test if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

The rules are being relaxed to also stop asymptomatic people being forced into isolation, especially in healthcare, hospitality and airlines, and cut long lines of people forced to get PCR tests for interstate travel or because they have been at a public site with a confirmed case.

Health officials will rely more on at-home rapid antigen tests instead.

Australia is grappling with the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant after most states eased tough restrictions, and like other countries, is betting on the highly transmissible variant being much less severe than previous variants.

Despite the Omicron wave, Australia’s tally of nearly 363,000 infections and 2,225 deaths are far lower than many comparable countries.

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