Close contact rules could cost Queensland families hundreds of dollars

Rules for COVID-19 close contacts in Queensland have been eased but a social services group says the new requirements could put further pressure on families already struggling with the rising cost of living.

From 6pm next Thursday, asymptomatic close contacts in Queensland who test negative for the virus will no longer need to quarantine for a week.

Instead, they’ll be required to wear masks indoors, and outdoors where they can’t socially distance, for seven days.

Additionally, they’ll need to return a negative Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) result every second day since they became a close contact.

The new rules bring Queensland into line with similar measures as New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT.

Making the announcement yesterday, Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the easing of restrictions was another step towards living with the virus.

“This will provide a much-needed boost to businesses and allow many workers to return to their jobs,” Ms D’Ath said.

Families could be forced to choose between essentials and RATs

The requirement to return four negative RAT results in the week since becoming a close contact has raised concerns from the Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS).

RATs typically cost anywhere from $10 to $15, and in some cases marginally more or less, depending on where you’re buying them.

For a single, that’s $40-$60 spent on RATs in a week.

For a family of four, assuming one of the family has tested positive for COVID-19 using a RAT and the other three don’t test positive in the week following, they’ll need 13 RATs.

That’s $130 to $195 spent on RATs in a week.

QCOSS chief executive Aimee McVeigh said the measures could force families into tough decisions.

“Evidence-based public health measures to protect the community from COVID continue to be very important,” Ms McVeigh said.

“However, the decision to buy a rapid test shouldn’t mean people have to skip a meal, not pay a bill or go into debt.

Aimee McVeigh says the new measures could force families into tough decisions.(Supplied: Queensland Council of Social Service)

With some economists predicting inflation could continue to rise this year, Ms McVeigh said the problem was only set to get worse.

“Families on low incomes across the state are struggling with the rising costs of living,” she said.

“Our research from 2021 found that families on low incomes were already making impossible choices between food, rent and paying household bills.

“For example, the average working family on minimum wage on the Sunshine Coast was already in the red by $234 a week after paying for food, rent and bills.”

What concessions are available?

There are options for certain groups to access free or tax-deductible RATs.

Concession cardholders can get up to 10 free RATs over a three-month period, with a maximum of five in a month, from participating community pharmacies.

To get the free RATs, you need one of the following cards:

  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
  • Health care card
  • Low Income Health Care Card
  • Retiree Concession Card
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold, White, or Orange card

RATs are also tax-deductible for Australian individuals and exempt from fringe benefit tax (FBT) for businesses when purchased for work-related purposes.

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