National Cabinet confirms that ECEC will soon be exempt from close contact rules
Following a meeting held yesterday by the National Cabinet in response to the ongoing impact of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, the Prime Minister has confirmed that each state and territory will need to implement changes to close contact arrangements for essential workers under respective state and territory public health orders and equivalent arrangements, and that early childhood education and care (ECEC) employees will fall under this directive.
ECEC now essential workers exempt from close contact isolation rules
Following a detailed briefing from Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury, Dr Steven Kennedy PSM on the impact of the Omicron variant on workforce availability, the National Cabinet determined that current arrangements, in terms of managing the presence of the Omicron variant in the community, could see ten per cent of Australia’s workforce including many workers in critical supply sectors withdrawn from the workforce.
This, coupled with the potential impact of school and ECEC closures on workforce absenteeism relating to caring responsibilities could see a further five per cent of Australia’s workforce withdrawn from the workforce.
As a result, the National Cabinet agreed to the importance of keeping critical sectors open and agreed to extend the furlough arrangements in place for food and grocery supply chain workers to other sectors including ECEC.
Each state and territory will implement these changes to close contact arrangements for essential workers under respective state and territory public health orders and equivalent arrangements.
Changes will be made as soon as possible, where they have not already been made under state and territory public health arrangements, to include essential workers in:
- All transport, freight, logistics and service stations
Changes will be made shortly, where they have not already been made under state and territory public health arrangements, to include:
- Health, welfare, care and support (including production and provision of medical, pharmaceutical and health supplies),
- Emergency services, safety, law enforcement, justice and correctional services,
- Energy, resources and water, and waste management,
- Food, beverage, and other critical goods (including farming, production, and provision but not including hospitality),
- Education and childcare; and
- Telecommunications, data, broadcasting and media.
A full list of sectors is available here.
The National Cabinet agreed to seek advice from AHPPC on further measures including the role of symptom screening and monitoring in addition to PCR and Rapid Antigen Tests, as the next step towards longer term management of COVID-19 as an infectious disease.
National Framework for Managing COVID-19 in Schools and ECEC
The National Cabinet agreed to the National Framework for Managing COVID-19 in Schools and Early Childhood Education and Care. The Framework is based on six National Guiding Principles:
- ECEC services and schools are essential and should be the first to open and the last to close wherever possible in outbreak situations, with face-to-face learning prioritised;
- Baseline public health measures continue to apply;
- No vulnerable child or child of an essential worker is turned away;
- Responses to be proportionate and health risk-based;
- Equip ECEC services and schools to respond on the basis of public health advice and with support from public health authorities where required;
- Wellbeing of children and education staff to be supported.
All state and territory Governments will come back to the National Cabinet next week to set out the practical implementation of this Framework so that families can plan with certainty. This will include detailed operational plans, such as mask wearing and surveillance rapid antigen testing, including for teachers.
The Queensland and South Australian Governments have delayed the start to their school years by two weeks due to the forecast peaks of the virus in those states. These schools will still be open for the children of essential workers during this period.
The National Cabinet will meet again on Thursday 20 January 2022. To review the National Cabinet notes in full see here. For a copy of the National Framework for Managing COVID-19 in Schools and ECEC see here.
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