What are the rules regarding close contacts?
COVID-19 continues to challenge businesses and employees. The government has amended the rules for close contacts, but some states have introduced exemptions to isolation for workers that are deemed as ‘critical’ or ‘essential’ to continue the supply of essential goods to households and businesses.
Household contacts are defined as close contacts
The definition of close contacts has changed. A household or a household-like contact is now defined as a close contact. There is a general requirement that household close contacts of a positive case must isolate for 7 days. Household close contacts are different from workplace contacts.
Each state has a different definition of workplace contacts and isolation requirements that employers should be aware of.
In addition, some states have introduced isolation exemptions for critical workers. Generally, the industries that the exemption applies to are those that need to continue to operate in order to ensure the adequate supply of essential goods and services for households and businesses.
Victoria’s rules for workplace contacts
From 11.59pm 12 January 2022, a person who tests positive on a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) is a probable case, and must report their result to the Department of Health.
If a worker who has tested positive for COVID-19 has worked in the work premises during their infectious period, they must inform their workplace as soon as possible.
The workplace must identify and inform other workers who are contacts (including sub-contractors but not patrons). A matrix has been developed to help determine who is and who isn’t a workplace contact.
- If they have symptoms, they must use a RAT or if they cannot access a RAT, a PCR test
- If they do not have symptoms, they are strongly recommended to use five RATs (one per day)
Workplaces must notify the Department of Health in the event of an outbreak at the premises. An outbreak in a workplace setting is defined as 5 or more persons diagnosed with COVID-19 within 7 days. The COVID-19 outbreak notification form can be used to quickly inform the Department.
Workers can return to work once they have completed their 7-day self-isolation period and they have tested negative on day 6. They do not require a negative test result in order to leave isolation but they do need it to return to work.
Further information is available at Coronavirus Victoria – Case in the workplace.
Victoria’s rules for isolation exemptions for critical workers
There are limited exemptions from isolation requirements for groups of essential workers who are COVID-19 contacts. The exemption will allow certain workers to attend work if it is necessary for the continuity of operations, and other options have been exhausted.
Both the worker and the employer must consent to the worker returning to work.
A list of who the exemption applies to can be found here. The list is being reviewed and updated.
- only applies to close contacts who have no symptoms and have returned a negative RAT
- only allows the worker to attend work. When not at the workplace, workers must comply with all isolation requirements.
Exempted workers must:
- notify their employer that they are a close contact and are eligible for conditional exemption from quarantine to attend work only
- undertake a daily RAT for 5 days and return a negative result prior to attending work
- wear face masks (preferably N06/P2 respirator) when indoors and when physical distancing cannot be maintained - unless eating or drinking or for safety reasons
- not enter shared break areas.
If the exempted worker develops symptoms or tests positive on a RAT, the exemption will no longer apply – they will be a case and must isolate for 7 days and notify their employer.
- must first determine if the worker’s attendance at work is necessary for the continued operations of the critical service
- must take reasonable steps to ensure that breaks can be taken separately from other workers
- take reasonable steps to ensure the exempted essential worker is placed in areas where the risk of transmission at the workplace is likely to have the lowest impact.
More information is available at Contact assessment and management guidance: workplaces, business and industry and at Checklist for COVID contacts.
New South Wales’ rules for workplace contacts
The NSW approach for workplace contacts requires people to assess their own personal risk using a table as guidance.
Someone who has interacted closely with someone who has COVID-19 and not wearing masks is considered be at high risk of infection.
They should self-isolate for 7 days from the last time they had contact with the positive case and do a RAT as soon as possible and again on day 6. If all tests are negative, they can leave isolation after 7 days.
New South Wales’ rules for isolation exemptions for critical workers
Some critical workers who are close contacts are permitted to leave self-isolation to attend work, only if they have no COVID-19 symptoms.
The exemption only applies to critical workers who are specified in the exemption, and who would otherwise be required to self-isolate for 7 days as ‘close contacts’.
A worker will only be eligible for the exemption if their employer determines that:
- their absence from the workplace poses a high risk of disruption to the delivery of critical services or activities; and
- they are unable to work from home.
A critical worker who tests positive or develops symptoms of COVID-19 must self-isolate.
The exemption applies to critical workers listed here.
Critical workers under the exemption are subject to the following conditions:
- must only attend work if approved by or on behalf of their employer for the purpose of the exemption
- must travel directly to and from their workplace(s). They cannot leave home for other purposes
- must wear a mask at all times in the workplace, unless eating or drinking or if the mask needs to be removed for safety reasons
- must undergo daily RATs for a period of 7 days from when they last had contact with the diagnosed person, and must notify their employer of each result
- any person who tests positive for COVID-19 following a RAT must immediately self-isolate for 7 days
- notwithstanding a negative RAT result, if a critical worker develops any symptoms of COVID-19, they must immediately self-isolate and may only return to work with evidence of a negative PCR test taken after the onset of symptoms
- must comply with any other reasonable measures put in place by their employer to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Guidance steps for employers to consider in managing these risks within the workplace are available here.
Queensland’s rules for workplace contacts
Confirmed cases must isolate for 7 days from the date they tested positive. No other staff must quarantine unless they are considered a close contact.
Information for close contact quarantine and testing requirements is available here.
Guidance is also available for businesses to assist with managing COVID-19 in workplaces.
Queensland’s rules for isolation exemptions for critical workers
The approach in Queensland is different to the other states. An employer in a critical industry can identify and create a Critical Worker List of critically essential roles. A close contact who performs a critically essential role can leave quarantine to work if they have no covid symptoms and are fully vaccinated.
The close contact performing critically essential work must also:
- use a mask when indoors, and outdoors when unable to physically distance from other people; and
- travel to and from the workplace by private transport by the most direct route practicable and without stopping, except for refuelling (contactlessly as far as possible); and
- undertake regular symptom surveillance; and
- undertake regular hand hygiene; and
- undertake a Rapid Antigen Test on Day 6 of the quarantine period; and
- to the extent reasonably practicable, practise physical distancing including by remaining at least 1.5 metres from other people until the end of the quarantine period for the close contact; and
- comply with any industry or employer requirements for workers in critically essential roles.
Employers are required to undertake a self-assessment process to identify if they are an essential industry and what roles are critical to the continuation of services.
The steps are:
- Identify as an industry on the critical industry list
- Create a Critical Worker List of critically essential roles
- Submit the Critical Worker list to email@example.com
Note: if the Critical Worker List has not been submitted (or a critically essential role has not been added to an existing list) and a worker, who is a close contact, is required to perform a critically essential role:
- the close contact, if they meet all other requirements of a critically essential worker, can perform the essential role immediately
- the Critical Worker List must be updated by the employer and submitted no later than three days after the close contact attends work.
Employers must keep a record of their Critical Worker List and produce it if requested by an emergency officer.
A Critical Worker List will be invalid if an employer incorrectly identifies their industry as a critical industry, or incorrectly assesses a role as a critically essential role.
Go to critically essential worker requirements for more information.
South Australia’s rules for workplace contacts
A workplace contact will be deemed a close contact if they had interaction with a person with COVID-19 during their infectious period for 15 minutes or more in close physical proximity in an indoor setting and masks were not worn. The infectious period for a person with COVID-19 is defined as two days prior to a positive COVID-19 test or symptoms appearing and ending 10 days after the first positive test result.
Further information about close contacts is available here.
South Australia’s rules for isolation exemptions for critical workers
The state introduced permissions for close contact critical workers to return to the workplace during the quarantine period.
The document outlines the industry sectors that the exemption applies to as well as the requirements of the businesses.
Northern Territory’s rules for workplace contacts
The NT has different isolation requirements for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people who are a close contact. Fully vaccinated people must isolate for 7 days whereas unvaccinated people need to isolate for 14 days.
People can leave isolation if they have received negative test results and completed the required isolation days. This also applies to close contacts who have continued to live with one or more confirmed cases during their isolation.
More information can be found here.
Northern Territory’s rules for isolation exemptions for critical workers
Essential workers, who are close contacts undertaking isolation, may leave isolation to undertake their essential work if they:
- Have no symptoms
- Are fully vaccinated, having had at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine
- Have a negative Rapid Antigen Test each day before attending work
- Monitor for symptoms
Essential workers are not required to go to work if they are close contacts in isolation but can choose to. A list of essential workers is available.
Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT
These jurisdictions currently do not have any isolation exemptions for critical workers.
For information on close contacts go to: