Prime Minister announces changes to coronavirus response

COVID-19-positive patients will only need a rapid antigen test to exit quarantine in seven days following sweeping changes to the national response to the surge in Omicron cases.

Five Australian states and territories from midnight Thursday will implement unison definitions of a close contact with the health response also to rely more heavily on RATs to screen for the disease.

Following Thursday's snap national cabinet meeting which was sparked by a blowout in testing wait times, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the country's testing centres would transition to deal with larger case loads and more spread of the virus.

Mr Morrison confirmed publicly-funded rapid antigen tests would be the primary tool used at testing centres instead of PCR tests, with the response in part to ease wait times which have been under pressure due to a boom in case numbers and PCR testing requirements to enter certain states.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly, who accompanied Mr Morrison following national cabinet, also stressed early findings were showing the Omicron strain was less severe than Delta and was not seeing the same rate of hospitalisation.

The prime minister said the changes would alleviate the pressure on the health care system and prevent a deluge of people needing to get tested at once.

His comments come off the back of the national number of new COVID-19 cases exceeding 20,000 on Thursday.

"We will transfer over the next few weeks from PCR to these rapid antigen tests at the state testing centres over the next couple of weeks," Mr Morrison said.

"This should, significantly we hope over the next few weeks, greatly reduce the volume of people who are taking these PCR tests, which means we'll be able to increase the turnaround time of ... the results back to those who need to take them."

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As part of the changes the definitions of a casual contact will be dropped in the states which agreed to implement to the uniform changes.

Tasmania is expected to adopt the changes by the start of the new year, however Western Australia and Northern Territory will continue to implement PCR requirements for contacts and people entering their respective jurisdictions.

RAT tests will still be available for purchase in the private market, however, close contacts and people with symptoms will be able to access those tests through the public health system.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Elesa Kurtz.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Elesa Kurtz.

National cabinet outlined close contacts were a household contact or someone who had been around a COVID-19-positive person for more than four hours in an enclosed space.

The five states and territories which agreed to the changes will now mean a close contact must isolate for seven days and get a test on day six.

A positive case only has to use a RAT test on day six to determine if they still have the disease.

Dr Kelly confirmed the nation was moving to a different phase of the pandemic and the response needed to deal with the high transmissibility of Omicron.

He also noted early evidence pointed to Omicron being 70 per cent less severe than the Delta variant.

Dr Kelly's comments were based on recent findings from South Africa where the variant has been most prevalent.

"At the moment that is what we are seeing, a much less severe spectrum. So that brings about a change," Dr Kelly said.

"The hospitalisations, ICU and ventilation rates ... they are extremely low compared with what we were seeing with Delta and in the pre-vaccination era."

Roughly 1400 people with COVID-19 are hospitalised from an infected cohort of approximately 110,000.

The transfer to RAT tests is expected over the coming weeks.

Mr Morrison flagged smaller states would likely rely on bigger states to order publicly-funded RAT tests.

This story PM announces major COVID-19 testing changes first appeared on The Canberra Times.