The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) and other national peak disability representative organisations have written to National Cabinet in response to the management of COVID-19 and the omicron variant that unacceptably puts the lives and wellbeing of people with disability at risk. We have attached an extract of the letter below.

Dear National Cabinet,

People with disability are at risk for their lives.

We write to you collectively as national disabled people’s organisations and disability representative organisations, unified in our concerns about the current handling of the threat of the Omicron and Delta variants of COVID-19 by Australia’s federal, state and territory governments.

As a group, we wanted to follow up with you about the National Cabinet meeting held on 13 January 2022 in response to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, approaches to test, trace, isolate and quarantine including the use of rapid antigen tests (RATs) and the vaccine rollout and booster program.

In particular, the disability sector is concerned about National Cabinet’s decision to use state and territory public health arrangements to extend limits on furlough arrangements for supply chains workers, to workers in other fields including the health, welfare, care and support sectors.

We are highly concerned that disability support workers and other supporters of people with disability, who are close contacts of people who have been COVID-positive, will not have to isolate for the period required of Australia’s general population.

This change means that it is now inevitable that people with an active case of COVID will be around people with disability and can pass it on. We find this unacceptable.

As we have previously outlined, people with disability are at much greater risk than the general population from the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular, older people with disability, First Peoples with disability, people with intellectual disability, people with psychosocial disability and those with chronic health conditions, co-morbidities, dependence on ventilators and compromised immunity.

As representatives of some of our most clinically vulnerable people, it is clear to us that governments’ let-it-rip approach are an ableist approach that does not value the lives of people with disability.

While people with disability need to be assured access to essential services such as disability support and healthcare, accessing these services should not come at the expense of contracting a virus that could be life-threatening for those of us with underlying conditions.

People who do not have COVID symptoms can still have COVID. People who are COVID-negative on a RAT can still have COVID, or later develop it. This is why the quarantine and isolation periods we have relied on for two years – which have been so effective in controlling the spread of the virus – continue to be so important.

Isolation and quarantine periods help our community to be protected from COVID, as well as prevent community transmission where possible. This is especially important for at-risk communities such as ours which has many groups that are clinically vulnerable to COVID.

The National Cabinet’s decision to limit furloughs for disability support workers is allowing COVID to rip through communities of people with disability and their support workers. As we can see, this increase in infections within our community is already having a negative impact on the delivery of our supports.

National Cabinet’s current proposed solution to improve capacity will instead reduce capacity, as we expect community transmission will occur in closed settings, including group homes and other congregate living spaces where people with disability live.

As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Australia has an obligation to consider the impact of its decisions on people with disability. However, we believe National Cabinet’s response to the threat of the contagious Omicron variant has neglected the disability sector and is putting the lives of people with disability at risk and needs real action and evaluation.

To prevent more lives from being lost, immediate improvements must be made to ensure appropriate self-isolation requirements for workers in all industries. Additionally, it is essential that Australia’s governments listen to and work with the disability sector when formulating responses to the pandemic.

We have been clear on what we believe needs to happen to ensure the ongoing health and safety of people with disability, and how to make sure our human rights are protected during the pandemic. We are outlining these actions again below.

The disability sector that we represent has the following three key recommendations for Australia’s federal, state and territory governments:

  1. The Australian Government’s two National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) agencies, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (the commission) and the National Disability Insurance Agency, must ensure continuity of support by disability support workers for people with disability. The response so far has been reactive, and we need a proactive approach, to sure the continuity of our supports. The commission must ensure individual NDIS disability support service providers develop and maintain COVID-19 emergency care plans are in place, and urgently reviewed and updated in light of the current wave of COVID-19 cases. These plans need to be in place for NDIS participants who self-manage or have plan-managed plans.

  2. Australia’s governments must provide free and accessible access to personal protective equipment (PPE), especially N95 or P2 face masks, oximeters, as well as rapid antigen tests (RATs) on an ongoing basis for both people with disability, our support workers and carers.

  3. Australia’s state and territory governments must ensure priority access and processing of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for people with disability, our disability support workers and carers.

Yours sincerely,
People with Disability Chief Executive Officer, Sebastian Zagarella
Australian Federation of Disability Organisations Chief Executive Officer, Ross Joyce
Disability Advocacy Network Australia Chief Executive Officer, Mary Mallett
Inclusion Australia Chief Executive Officer, Catherine McAlpine
Women with Disabilities Australia Executive Director, Carolyn Frohmader
National Ethnic Disability Alliance Chief Executive Officer, Dwayne Cranfield
First Peoples Disability Network (Australia) Chief Executive Officer, Damian Griffis
Children and Young People with Disability Australia A/Chief Executive Officer, Liz Hudson

You can find the Full Statement Here.

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