The Labor Government has approved a massive $1.4 billion expansion of COVID-19 support measures as Health Minister Mark Butler declared Australia is in the midst of a “steep downslope” of its current Omicron wave.
Australia experienced its third Omicron wave which peaked in July and August and resulted in an average of more than 50,000 cases recorded nationally each day.
But in the week to September 13, infections continued the sharp decline – dropping by 20 per cent across the country.
Since the peak of the Omicron wave, case numbers are down 85 per cent, hospitalisations have decreased by 75 per cent and the mortality rate has dropped by more than 50 per cent.
However, the Health Minister said the virus still presented a significant threat to Australians.
“We are now in the steep downslope out of this third Omicron wave,” Mr Butler said at a press conference in Adelaide on Monday.
“But we need to be clear that COVID is still a very substantial threat to the community especially to those at risk of severe illness.
“There is still tragic loss of life being felt by about 45 families on average every single day because of COVID.
“And there is still very real pressure on our health and our hospital system because of ongoing infections.”
As a result of the continued spread of the virus, Mr Butler said the government would extend certain COVID services and boost funding to measures which he said had been “underfunded”.
More than $840 million of additional funding will be allocated to the Aged Care Support Program which assists facilities in addressing COVID-19 outbreaks.
The minister said the announcement was the “most significant” in the package and would “protect aged care”.
As part of the $840 million, $35 million will be streamlined to fund ongoing on-site PCR testing.
The government will also allocate $115 million for the supply of rapid antigen tests to service providers.
More than $48 million will be provided to extend the services of about 100 GP respiratory clinics as well as $5.5 million for additional rebates for face-to-face consultation for COVID patients.
An additional $142 million will go towards the extension of Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items and rebates for testing COVID and “other respiratory viruses”, while $5 million will be allocated to items to prescribe antivirals.
Frontline healthcare workers, first nations health services and primary, disability and aged care facilities will benefit from further PPE, treatments and tests through a $235 million boost to the National Medical Stockpile.
The government recently changed the way it reported about COVID-19, following state counterparts by replacing daily case numbers with weekly published reports.
More than 53,000 infections were reported across the country in the week up to September 16 with a daily average of 7,649.