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Covid-19 pandemic leave disaster payments program axed

Australians who catch Covid-19 and need to miss work are no longer eligible for emergency financial support from the federal government.

The pandemic leave disaster payments of up to $750 have been scrapped as of Thursday, but infected people are still required to isolate at home.

Unions have railed against the decision, arguing the change will force frontline workers and thousands of other people to make an “impossible choice” between paying their bills and obeying the rules.

The peak union body’s president, Michele O’Neil, said the decision would mean a return to the earliest and most costly mistakes of the pandemic.

“If we are asking people to isolate to keep the community safe, then we need to ensure that they are supported to do that,” she said.

“No one should suffer such a big financial penalty for doing the right thing.”

Camera IconHealth Minister Mark Butler defended the payment changes on Friday. Liam Kidston Credit: News Corp Australia

The unions seized on comments made by Health Minister Mark Butler earlier on Friday, when he said Australia was still “in a very serious phase of the pandemic”, with almost 200,000 new infections and 300 deaths recorded in the past week.

Mr Butler argued that Australia’s “trillion dollars of debt” meant the government simply didn’t have the financial capacity to fund the emergency measures forever.

“At some point in this pandemic, and we are reaching that point, we are going to have to start lifting emergency measures,” he told ABC radio on Friday morning.

“There’s not the ability of the taxpayer to continue to fund every gap in the labour market for people who don’t have access to sick leave.”

He noted the pandemic payments were always due to end on June 30.

Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments
Camera IconUnions have argued that frontline workers will be among the hardest hit by the changes. NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia
Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments
Camera IconThe ACTU says people will be forced to choose between paying their bills and following the rules. NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

Mr Butler warned that health authorities are expecting a third wave of Omicron cases, fuelled by a new subvariant which is still being investigated.

Mr Butler later on Friday met with his state and territory counterparts for the first time since the federal election.

He reaffirmed the Albanese government’s commitment to have its review of Australia’s health system completed by October, according to a readout of Friday’s meeting.

The ministers discussed the “significant challenges and increased demand” being felt in the nation’s public hospitals, as well as funding arrangements.

They also discussed rising Covid-19 cases and ways to promote antiviral treatments for the disease amid a winter spike of infections.

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