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International students allowed extra hours as National Cabinet moves to ease supply chain pressures

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Mr Morrison said the situation required a balancing between keeping people in work and protecting the health system as COVID-19 infections rapidly rise. 

“The goal is not to stop everyone in the country getting COVID,” he told reporters following a meeting of National Cabinet.

“The goal is to protect our hospitals and keep our society and economy functioning as we ride this latest wave of Omicron.” 

Spiralling numbers of Omicron cases have placed a large number of workers out of action due to either contracting COVID-19 or being deemed a close contact.

Essential workers expanded to boost supply

Mr Morrison also announced close contact rules would be further eased for all transport, freight and logistic employees to reduce intensifying pressure on supply chains. 

The changes will mean that workers in these sectors will be allowed to return to work straight away if they are a close contact and deliver a negative rapid antigen test.

The federal government has estimated between 20 and 50 per cent of trucking and logistic workers have been placed out of action in isolation or affected by COVID.  

Mr Morrison described the move as the most “immediate extension” and said that would include those who work at service stations.

The same rules will be extended to health and emergency services and critical goods such as energy and resources and the food distribution system. 

It will also classify telecommunications and media as well as education and child care staff as covered by the rules.  

Opposition Leader earlier criticised the government for not planning ahead citing concerns over the availability of rapid antigen tests. 

“This government can’t continue to wait until a problem becomes a crisis before it acts,” he told reporters. 

“Clearly, part of the problem with the workplace shortages which are there is that people can’t get access to tests.”

‘It is absolutely essential for schools to go back’

Mr Morrison also stressed a focus must be placed on children returning to school, to help ease Australia’s growing workforce crisis. 

He insisted schools should not delay the start of the year until after the projected peak of COVID cases, as has been done in Queensland and South Australia.  

“If schools don’t open, that can add an additional five per cent to the absenteeism in the workforce,” Mr Morrison said.

“It is absolutely essential for schools to go back safely and remain safely open.” 

National Cabinet did not make any specific agreements on how the return to school would look, but a number of key principles were endorsed, including that schools are essential and “should be first to open and last to close”.

PM says COVID parties are ‘nonsense’

During his press conference, Mr Morrison also slammed the idea of people attending COVID-19 parties to intentionally contract the virus. 

He emphasised that medical evidence showed “reinfection” of the Omicron variant can occur. 

“All this nonsense about COVID parties, it is ridiculous,” he told reporters. 

“If you think you can go out there and get the virus and get it over with, that is not how this works.”

He urged people to continue to take precautions and exercise common sense against the virus by following measures.