Australia news live: NSW and Queensland flood clean-up continues; Covid cases expected to surge in coming weeks

National cabinet is moving to end quarantine requirements for Covid-19 close contacts, as the Omicron wave of the virus approaches its peak in Western Australia, AAP reports.

It is predicted WA, which recorded 4,300 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, could have about 10,000 new cases per day by next week, with hospitalisations forecast to peak towards the end of March.

Meanwhile, Scott Morrison said on Saturday that quarantine requirements are starving businesses of staff, and scrapping the need to isolate for extended periods will help the nation’s economic recovery.

Rather than a specified timeframe, otherwise healthy people with mild respiratory illnesses will instead be encouraged to undertake voluntary self-isolation only while symptomatic.

National cabinet is also looking at measures to reduce the reliance on PCR testing for Covid-19 diagnosis.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee is urgently reviewing both changes.

In WA, anyone who contracts the virus, as well as their close contacts, is currently required to isolate for seven days.

The state closed its borders to the rest of the country early in the pandemic, and while those restrictions have been lifted, density limits and mask requirements are still in force.

Morrison predicted a challenging winter, with Covid-19 cases and influenza likely to have an effect.

“Now that we are living with the virus, it means we are living with everything again,” he said.

The government has set aside $2.1bn to prepare for winter, including $1.2bn to help protect residential aged care and disability care sectors, $356m to protect vulnerable population groups and a further $571m for vaccines.

The government is also deciding on plans to handle a new and potentially more transmissible subvariant of Omicron.

NSW posted 12,850 new infections on Saturday, Victoria recorded 6,075 and Queensland 4,029.

There were 1,130 in Tasmania, 259 in the Northern Territory, 704 in the ACT and 2,374 in South Australia.

There were another 22 virus-related deaths across the nation, with 11 in Victoria, four in NSW, six in Queensland and one in South Australia.

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