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More Essential Workers Will Be Exempt From Close Contact Isolation Requirements

Nicole de Souza Nicole de Souza - Staff Writer

people wearing masks leaving Flinders Street Station

Earlier this week, the Victorian Government announced that certain essential workers in the food industry, such as retail supermarket staff, may be exempted from close contact isolation requirements in order to attend work. Today, more essential workers have been added to the list, in order to keep essential services running as the state grapples with the Omicron variant.

“This is about helping Victorians keep food on the table, lights on in the house and staff on in our hospitals,” said Premier Dan Andrews.

From 11:59pm, on Tuesday January 18, workers in emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities, transport and freight will be eligible for an exemption.

What does this mean for essential workers?

Workers that are close contacts to positive cases may return to work if it’s absolutely necessary for operations to run, and if all other options have been exhausted. This exemption will only apply to attending work, and not in any other setting.

A close contact is someone who has spent over four hours with a positive case inside a house, accommodation or care facility.

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To be eligible, workers must be fully vaccinated, and notify their employer of their status as a close contact. Both parties must consent to the worker returning to the workplace.

“The worker’s rights are protected, and they can’t be directed to work if they are a contact – the worker has to agree to come in, just as they have to agree to the various preventative measures that will reduce risks for others,” said Premier Dan Andrews.

Steps must be taken to minimise the risk of spread. These are:

  • The worker must take a rapid antigen test every day, for five days. Each time, they must produce a negative result prior to attending work.
  • They must wear a face mask at all times, except for eating, drinking or safety reasons. A P2/N95 respirator is preferred.
  • The worker cannot enter shared break areas. The employer must try and facilitate this with solo break time. The employer must also reasonably deploy the worker to areas where the risk of transmission is lower.
  • If the worker develops symptoms, or produces a positive RAT, this exemption no longer applies. As a result, they must isolate for 7 days, and notify their employer.

This exemption also applies currently to hospital workers, disability workers, residential aged care facility workers and ambulance workers. However, in this case, the use of an N95 mask is a requirement, not a preference.

Workplaces must also notify the Department of Health if five positive cases have attended the workplace within seven days.

The current list of added essential workers are:

  • Emergency Service such as police, fire services and the SES
  • Prisons and custodial services
  • Critical utilities such as gas, electricity, water and waste disposal
  • Freight and transport operators, including at ports and airports
  • Primary, secondary and early childhood education
  • Critical care services that support our most vulnerable

To read the Premier’s statement, click here.

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