Home Faculty meeting National cabinet to discuss return to school, free RATs and food shortages

National cabinet to discuss return to school, free RATs and food shortages

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The national cabinet will meet on Thursday to determine how students can safely return to school as Omicron COVID cases reach record highs.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet with state and territory leaders to develop a uniform approach to reopening schools later this month, as well as addressing staffing shortages, free RAT kits and food shortages.

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Principles for how schools would reopen and remain open to students following the Omicron crisis have already been finalized by federal, state and territory leaders. These principles will be proposed and negotiated during the national cabinet on Thursday.

Treasury officials will also address leaders at the meeting to promote economic reasons to keep schools open.

The national cabinet will also likely expand the list of sectors classified as essential in order to keep supply chains moving.

Scott Morrison will call a national cabinet meeting as COVID-19 cases rise across Australia. Credit: PAA

It follows the recommendation earlier this week from Australia’s leading medical advisory group that food and grocery workers can return to work after being in close contact with a positive COVID case, if they return a negative RAT .

A similar proposal could be made for other sectors classified as essential. These could include road, rail and air transport, energy supply, mental health and education.

Transport and logistics workers could take priority as food shortages rock supermarkets and hospitality venues, leaving many shelves empty and out of stock.

Supermarket file image.
Supermarket file image. Credit: Tom Werner/Getty Images

Meanwhile, ministers have raised the possibility that JobSeeker recipients could be deployed to workforces facing staffing shortages to help fill the void.

A plan to increase the number of hours international students can work to 40 per fortnight is also being seen as a way to ease pressure on sectors hard hit by the virus.

The meeting will also set a date when concession card holders can access free rapid tests at pharmacies.

Agreements with pharmacies for the program, which would give dealers access to 10 free tests over a three-month period, have been finalized.

A file photo of a pedestrian in Sydney's Pitt St Mall
Australians spend less as Omicron COVID-19 variant hits businesses and keeps people at home. Credit: PAA

The scheme was sketched out at the last national cabinet meeting following massive shortages of rapid tests across the country.

As the shortage of rapid tests continues, the government has launched an urgent tender for more than $60 million worth of tests.

Five separate tenders for rapid tests were launched Monday by the federal health department.

The tenders were sent out due to “extreme urgency or unforeseen events,” according to the tender listings.

It is unclear whether the tenders for new rapid tests would be part of the 200 million that the Prime Minister says will arrive in the country in the coming weeks, or if they are additional RATs.

A rapid antigen test.
The NSW Government wants residents to report a positive rapid antigen test for COVID-19. Credit: PAA

Mr Morrison has previously said the purchase of rapid tests was a state responsibility.

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher said the move demonstrated a lack of preparedness for the amount of rapid testing needed.

“Despite knowing rapid testing was a critical part of opening up, as early as September the Morrison government did nothing to secure supplies until there was a national COVID testing crisis” , Sen. Gallagher told AAP.

“How Scott Morrison could have waited until this week to order the necessary rapid antigen tests is beyond comprehension.”

CORONAVIRUS SENATE INQUIRY
Labor Senator Katy Gallagher has criticized the government’s response to the Omicron outbreak and demonstrated a lack of preparedness for the amount of rapid testing needed. Credit: PAA

Nationally, more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported Wednesday.

NSW recorded 34,759 new infections and 21 deaths, while Victoria recorded the same number of deaths and 40,127 cases.

There were 22,069 cases in Queensland and 3,715 in South Africa, while Tasmania and the ACT had 1,583 and 1,078 respectively.

It comes as more and more jurisdictions have moved to allow people who record positive rapid antigen test results to report it.

This decision was designed to allow health authorities to have a more accurate picture of the number of positive cases in the community.

NSW, SA and the ACT presented their plans on Wednesday for how positive tests would be recorded.

Residents of NSW and SA would be hit with a $1,000 fine if they failed to upload their positive test result.