Changes to surveillance testing for COVID-19 and mask wearing arrangements will come next week the Prime Minister has indicated following a virtual meeting with state and territory leaders.
More occupations will have isolation rules eased after the national cabinet met to hammer out a solution that eases pressure on businesses and supply chains crippled by massive staff shortages.
National cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, discussed easing isolation requirements for more "essential" workers who've come into close contact with a COVID-19 case.
A broader range of occupations were considered by the state and territory leaders on Thursday, including teachers, childcare workers, healthcare and support workers by expanding the definition of who is an essential worker.
Other industries included energy resources and water, waste management, telecommunication and media.
Hospitality was not included.
States and territories had already agreed to apply easing isolation rules to the food and grocery sector and to emergency services personnel.
Supermarkets, food suppliers, and retailers of other essential goods have been particularly hit by the staff shortages. As panic buying of toilet paper has returned, with Woolworths announcing it was introducing limits on individual purchases of essential goods while it waits for COVID-19 positive shelf stockers and transport workers to able to return.
Each state and territory will implement their own version of the new eased rules - that if someone is a close contact of a positive COVID-19 infection and complete a rapid antigen test that returns negative, they could return to work.
In lieu of isolation, such workers would have ongoing testing requirements put in place by their industry or by their employer.
However, the proposal requires workers and their employers to have access to rapid antigen test kits, which have been difficult to find for many Australians.
The leaders agreed to a proposal for concession card holders to have access to 10 free rapid antigen tests over three months, commending January 24, up to a maximum of five per month.
The Prime Minister said close contacts were only those living with someone in an accommodation setting who has tested positive.
"This notion of exposure sites, which means you are close contact - that is Delta. That is in the past," Mr Morrison told reporters.
People who are symptomatic would continue to receive free PCR testing at mass-testing centres.
Further operational plans for the future role of surveillance testing, rapid antigen tests and mask wearing arrangements would be released next week, Mr Morrison said. Those were being worked through by the states and territories.
Industry groups meet with federal government ministers this week seeking national consistency for isolation rules as the Prime Minister sought advice from his top public servants ahead of Thursday's national cabinet meeting.
The federal government said it was advised that 20 to 50 per cent of trucking and logistics workers were out of action in isolation or affected by COVID.
This has prompted further questions about the inadequate supply of rapid antigen tests to get out of isolation and go back to critical roles.
Other questions have been asked about whether workers should pay for the RAT kits to be able to go to work.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government was not properly prepared for a surge in cases and should have made RAT kits free to the public.
"What we need to do is make sure that we deal with the supply issues and make sure that workers are able to go to work safely, by actually getting access to these tests," Mr Albanese told reporters while campaigning in Queensland.
"The idea that someone who needs a test to go to work in an aged care facility can't do so safely because they can't access a RAT is a position that's untenable."
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National cabinet was also briefed by Treasury secretary Stephen Kennedy about the economic benefits of returning to school for 2022.
He advised the leaders that the nation could be looking at up to 10 per cent absenteeism from the workforce at the peak of the Omicron wave.
The Prime Minister said if schools don't open, that can add an additional 5 per cent absenteeism in the workforce.
"It is absolutely essential for schools to go back safely and remain safely open if we are not going to see any further exacerbation of the workforce challenges we are currently facing," Mr Morrison said.
Queensland has announced it will delay to schools returning by two weeks, while other jurisdictions will proceed as originally planned.
National cabinet also allowed for international students to work more than the current limit of 20 hours a fortnight.
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