Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is reportedly reversing course and will sign off on restoring the $750 pandemic isolation payment after the government announced it was ending.
He has also brought forward a national cabinet meeting to discuss the latest COVID wave to Saturday from Monday.
Pressure has been mounting on the federal government to reinstate the pandemic leave payments for workers needing to isolate but who do not have sick leave.
On Saturday Mr Albanese will advocate for a time-limited reinstatement of the payment at the cabinet meeting as infections skyrocket and hospitalisations increase, Nine newspapers reported on Friday evening.
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Mr Albanese was briefed by the chief medical officer when he returned to Australia from the Pacific Islands Forum on Friday afternoon.
He later tweeted that a national cabinet meeting scheduled for Monday had been brought forward to Saturday morning when CMO Paul Kelly would report to leaders on the latest COVID wave.
“We will discuss proposals to ensure the vulnerable are protected over coming weeks,” Mr Albanese said.
The prime minister had maintained that the $750 pandemic leave payment will not return after it ceased on June 30, citing pressures on the federal budget.
The free rapid test program and long telehealth phone consults are also coming to an end.
But state leaders, as well as federal Labor backbenchers, have advocated for the payments to be extended amid rising case numbers.
Mr Albanese said there were many workplaces that were already offering paid leave to employees having to isolate due to COVID-19.
“The idea no one is getting sick leave at the moment is not the case,” he told reporters on Friday.
“The (pandemic leave) payments were put in place by the former government with an end date, a decision they made at the time.”
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff have called for the payments to be extended through the current wave of COVID-19 cases.
Federal Labor MP Mike Freelander broke ranks on Thursday, urging the prime minister to extend the support measures, with fellow backbencher Michelle Ananda-Rajah following suit.
Health Minister Mark Butler said the government was closely monitoring the situation, but indicated large payouts needed to end following the withdrawal of mandates surrounding the pandemic.
“There’s no end to the list of worthy, important things we could be spending the money on in the health portfolio, but there is an end to the money,” he told ABC radio on Friday.
The opposition has accused Labor of hypocrisy for not extending the payments.
Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said clarity was needed.
“I would like the government to advise Australians of … why they thought it was a good idea now to remove these particular supports at the same time they’re telling Australians we’re about to be hit by another very serious wave of the virus,” she told ABC radio.
Australia recorded more than 43,000 cases and 66 deaths on Friday and there are 4602 people in hospital with the virus.
LATEST 24-HOUR COVID-19 DATA:
Victoria: 10,584 cases, 17 deaths, 749 in hospital with 35 in ICU
NSW: 12,228 cases, 14 deaths, 2027 in hospital with 60 in ICU
Tasmania: 1727 cases, one death, 133 in hospital with six in ICU
Queensland: 6336 cases, 20 deaths, 907 in hospital with 14 in ICU
WA: 6458 cases, eight deaths, 333 in hospital with 16 in ICU
SA: 4453 cases, six deaths, 266 in hospital with eight in ICU
ACT: 1208 cases, no deaths, 135 in hospital with four in ICU
NT: 494 cases, no deaths, 52 in hospital with one in ICU