Last week’s announcement that the government intends to end mandatory isolation requirements was a gut punch for medically vulnerable people, especially towards the end of a long hard 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 that I represent are now approaching their third year of lockdown by proxy. In many ways, for them, the situation feels much worse than 2020 – the community has moved on but the virus hasn’t – leaving us trapped and exposed.
The announcement sparked a snap national town hall meeting of support groups on Sunday, which heard calls to action from people working across the disability, health and employment sectors. People shared poignant stories of their ever-narrowing world and asked: where to now?
Our needs are straightforward. We want trusted representatives of vulnerable people, at-risk workers and those living with long Covid to be invited to address the national cabinet so that leaders can see the true impact of their decisions. We also want full data transparency and access to health advice on the removal of public health requirements.
We call on governments to commit to actions which protect people with disabilities, older Australians, sick and immunocompromised people and low-income workers. These include making public places such as schools, hospitals, offices and community facilities as Covid-safe as possible through air purification and mask use.
We would also like continued requirements for isolation and testing of all people working in care roles, and support payments for low-income and casual workers so that they are not forced back to work while sick. This includes the removal of mutual obligations for people at risk.
We also need long Covid recognised by the NDIS and aged care packages, and for income support and Medicare purposes. Let’s see a commitment to implement the findings of the long Covid inquiry as well as clear clinical, rehabilitation and referral pathways. Widened access to telehealth, a beacon of progress in the pandemic, needs to continue.
National cabinet needs to recognise that people with a disability, older people and immunocompromised people have been trapped for almost three years now. Our people are taking personal responsibility for our own health – by shielding and keeping out of intensive care units. Yet this comes at a high cost to wellbeing and we need pathways back to living.
We believe that the failure to make public spaces Covid-safe is discrimination against sick, older and disabled people – and this should be recognised. We need actions that enable us to “carry on”. This means continuing a non-contact service frameworkfor Centrelink and other government agencies, and providing support for people who wish to carry on 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 medications and healthcare treatment.
Finally we call on governments to acknowledge the extent of loss and grief in the vulnerable community because of Covid. It’s not OK to simply say we are “moving on”.
We need to treat the dead – including leaders from the disability community like John Moxon, who died from Covid a fortnight ago – with respect and decency. If we reflect on the toll of the last few years – a carnage of life, civil discourse and decency – we might still take pause and see a glimmer of hope as we approach the end of 2022.