LIn the past week announcement that the government intends to end mandatory isolation requirements it was a punch in the stomach for medically vulnerable people, especially towards the end of a long and difficult year that exposed what many felt was a disconnect between reality and the decisions of governments and public health authorities.
More than 15,000 people have died in Australia from Covid, and many of the people I represent are now approaching their third year of proxy lockdown. In many ways, to them, the situation feels much worse than it did in 2020: the community has moved on but the virus hasn’t, leaving us trapped and exposed.
The announcement sparked a national town hall meeting of support groups on Sunday, which heard calls to action from people working in the disability, health and employment sectors. People shared poignant stories of their shrinking world and asked: where to now?
Our needs are simple. We want trusted representatives of vulnerable people, workers at risk and those living with prolonged Covid to be invited to address the national cabinet so leaders can see the true impact of their decisions. We also want full data transparency and access to health advice on removing public health requirements.
We call on governments to commit to action that protects people with disabilities, older Australians, the sick and immunocompromised, and low-income workers. These include making public places such as schools, hospitals, offices and community facilities as safe as possible from Covid through air purification and the use of masks.
We would also like continued requirements for isolation and testing of all people working in care roles, and support payments for casual and low-income workers so they are not required to return to work while sick. This includes the removal of mutual obligations for people at risk.
We also need NDIS-recognized extended Covid and care packages for seniors, and for income support and Medicare purposes. Let’s see a commitment to implement the findings of the long Covid investigation, as well as clear clinical, rehabilitation and referral pathways. Expanded access to telehealth, a beacon of progress in the pandemic, must continue.
The national cabinet must recognize that people with disabilities, the elderly and immunocompromised people have been trapped for almost three years. Our people are taking personal responsibility for our own health, protecting ourselves and keeping them out of intensive care units. However, this comes at a high cost to well-being and we need pathways back to life.
We believe that the failure to make public spaces Covid-safe is discrimination against sick, elderly and disabled people and this needs to be recognised. We need actions that allow us to “move on”. This means continuing a contactless service framework for Centrelink and other government agencies, and providing support for people who want to continue working or studying from home. We also need a practical community development framework for those who remain isolated, including access to a guaranteed care workforce, essential medicines, and health care treatment.
Finally, we call on governments to recognize the extent of loss and grief in the vulnerable community due to Covid. It is not right to simply say that we are “moving forward”.
We need to treat the dead, including disability community leaders like John Moxon, who died of covid a fortnight ago, with respect and decency. If we reflect on the cost of the past few years, a carnage of life, civic discourse, and decency, we might yet pause and see a glimmer of hope as we near the end of 2022.