NEW South Wales and Queensland have changed COVID-19 self-isolation rules to allow critical workers who are close contacts of a case, and are asymptomatic, to return to work without a period of isolation.

Both states implemented the new rules on Sunday (9 January). Both states include freight and logistics workers in the list of critical workers.

In NSW, a new public health order puts several conditions on these critical workers returning to a workplace. They must wear a mask at all times in the workplace, they must undergo daily rapid antigen tests for seven days from when they last had contact with the diagnosed person, and they must isolate for seven days if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

The full NSW Health order can be read here.

The Queensland rules are similar to those in NSW. However, the Queensland rules stipulate that, in addition to other measures, close-contact workers attending work must be fully vaccinated.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the number of COVID-19 cases is expected to continue to rise over the coming weeks.

“People need to be able to have their lights on, have food in the fridge and have running water,” she said.

“We want to ensure our hospitals are staffed, food continues to be delivered to our supermarkets and we can still fill our cars at the petrol station.”

Queensland health minister Yvette D’Ath said the approach was a balanced one to ensure people had access to essential supplies and services.

“That’s why we’ve specified a number of precautions that close contacts need to follow if they are going to attend their place of work,” she said.

“Once they receive a negative Day 6 RAT [rapid antigen test] result they can continue going about their normal routine without the additional requirements.”

However, the Transport Workers’ Union said the decision to end isolation requirements meant transport workers were “thrown to the wolves” by the “reckless decision”.

The union said winding back close contact isolation requirements for asymptomatic transport workers would threaten the health and safety of workers and exacerbate disruption within the supply chain.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said, “Scrapping isolation requirements for transport workers is beyond reckless – workers are being thrown to the wolves by a government that continues to ignore all the warnings”.

“We know even if you’re asymptomatic you can still spread the virus. Requiring potentially sick people to go to work won’t make supply chains healthy. Sick drivers won’t get stock onto supermarket shelves any faster but it will certainly help the virus hitch a ride across Australia.”

The union said RATs don’t offer enough protection because they don’t pick up every COVID-19 case.

“Someone who is a close contact is by definition the greatest risk of passing it on – the NSW government is effectively scrapping the last buffer we had left to protect workplaces,” Mr Kaine said.

“To rebuild a healthy workforce we need to have isolation requirements and rapid testing working together – we can’t have one without the other. Testing combined with precautionary isolation is our best defence against this virus.”