Thursday's extension of exemptions to workers in a growing number of "essential" occupations, while necessary given the damage Omicron has wrought on the economy, is going to take time to have an effect.
One reason is that, as always, the devil is in the detail. The changes don't mean everybody currently isolating as a close or high risk contact will be back on the job tomorrow.
The other is that the entire exemption application regime is based on ready access to literally millions and millions of rapid antigen tests. These are virtually unobtainable. It is unlikely adequate stocks will be available until February.
There also appears to be some confusion over who is responsible for obtaining the tests once they do become available. It would seem unreasonable to expect workers to foot the bill given they are doing their employers, and the nation, a favour.
A key point that was not addressed by the Prime Minister during his post-national cabinet press conference is that employees cannot be forced to go into work against their will. It is imperative that the government, and individual employers, make sure all those who are eligible to invoke an exemption have a clear understanding of their right not to do so.
Under the changes exemptions can now be sought for workers in the health, welfare, care and support; food beverage and other critical goods; transport, freight and logistics; energy resources and waste management; telecommunications, data, broadcasting and media; education and childcare and emergency services, safety, law enforcement, justice and correctional services.
This "recalibration" was based on advice from the Australian Health Professionals Principal Committee which clearly stated the exemptions should only be used as a last resort and only by senior management.
And, according to the AHPPC, exemptions should not be used until other options, such as redeploying staff from other areas, delaying scheduled leave and attempting to recruit additional staff, had been put in place. This does not give bosses carte blanche to compel an employee to report for work or lose their job.
"The health and well being of staff members is of critical importance," the advice stated. "The ability to return to work is an exemption and optional for workers".
So, in short, if a person is a high risk contact they have every right to quarantine for seven days and to only go back to work if they return a negative rapid antigen test on the sixth day and are asymptomatic.
Although the APHCC also suggested extending exemptions to financial and insurance services; building and construction; essential research; critical government functions; and accommodation and real estate these have not been deemed essential at this time.
If a close contact working in one of the "essential" sectors does choose to exercise an exemption after their first rapid antigen test comes back negative they must have a RAT every second day and quarantine outside of work until they are cleared or return a negative result on day six or seven after exposure.
An exemption to go to work does not give an individual an automatic right to mingle freely in the broader community. And, during the period of the exemption, they cannot work at more than one site during the period covered. And if an exempt worker does becomes symptomatic at any time then they must immediately isolate at home.
The unfortunate truth is that the next few weeks will be challenging for tens of millions of Australians who were entitled to expect better from government given many of these problems had been foreseen and could have been prevented.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: