Financial support for Covid-19 cases required to isolate could be removed as part of a suite of changes to Covid-19 settings in late October, Marc Daalder reports

The Government is weighing up whether to end the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme, which provides thousands of people with financial aid while they isolate as Covid-19 cases, Newsroom understands.

No decision has yet been made on the fate of the programme. Officials are currently reviewing a range of options and Cabinet will decide ahead of October 20, when the epidemic notice that has been in place since March 2020 is set to expire.

A number of other Covid-19 settings and programmes could also be scrapped or scaled back when the epidemic notice expires.

As it stands, the Leave Support Scheme supported 2500 people last week with $2.6 million in payouts. That is down from the peak of the first Omicron wave, when 35,000 applications worth $44.3 million were approved in one week, but it still represents about a quarter of those in isolation.

Employers and self-employed people are able to apply for employees who are isolating as Covid-19 cases and who can’t work from home, with the programme paying out $600 for full-time workers and $359 for those working part time.

The scheme also supported household contacts before the Government removed the requirement for these individuals to isolate earlier this month.

“No decisions have been made on the future of the Leave Support Scheme,” Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni told Newsroom. “Applications for the Covid-19 Leave Support Scheme have been declining since the Omicron outbreak earlier this year.”

The Green Party has called on the Government to keep the scheme in operation.

Their Covid-19 response spokesperson Teanau Tuiono said the Greens had already condemned the Government for removing Covid-19 protections earlier in September.

“We would be appalled if it followed this by ending the leave support scheme. I can see no justification whatsoever to risk taking income away from people at a time when they have to be at home isolating,” he said.

“People living on low incomes often can’t afford to stay home, so it benefits us all if everyone can keep their income while isolating. What we need right now is additional support for people who are struggling, so they can look after themselves and their families while staying home to get well.”

Health experts have also previously said isolation remains a crucial part of the Covid-19 response.

“We know that isolating confirmed cases of Covid-19 while they are infectious is a crucial piece of public health policy, that prevents a large amount of onward transmission, while only causing disruption to the (now much smaller) number of people who are confirmed infections,” Emily Harvey of Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa said at the time the traffic light system was removed.

“Keeping the leave support scheme is also good news, but it would be good to see changes such as extended sick leave provisions, to enable all people to safely isolate without losing their income for that week.”

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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