As restrictions for COVID-19 are gradually lifted across Australia, people with a disability are at risk of being left behind as the world slowly goes back to 'normal'.
The National Cabinet released a 3-Step Framework for a COVIDSafe Australia earlier this month to help guide Australia’s recovery and return the country to life after COVID-19.
The plan outlines the steps being undertaken by States and Territories as they continue to ease COVID-19 restrictions.
Step one easing of restrictions is already in effect across most of Australia with many States and Territories looking towards moving toward step two.
Prime Minister Scott Morrisson said in the announcement that the path to recovery will be challenging for all Australians and that States and Territories will be responsible for managing the easing of restrictions.
“There will be risks, there will be challenges, there will be outbreaks, there will be more cases, there will be setbacks. Not everything will go to plan. There will be inconsistencies.
“States will and must move at their own pace, and will cut and paste out of this plan to suit their local circumstances. There will undoubtedly be some human error. No-one is perfect. Everyone is doing their best. To think or expect otherwise, I think, would be very unrealistic.
“This is a complex and very uncertain environment. But we cannot allow our fear of going backwards from stopping us from going forwards,” PM Morrison said.
Real risk that people with a disability will be left behind
As Australia moves to what will soon be the new normal, there are concerns that people with disability will remain at risk from COVID-19 and be left behind in the recovery process says Geoff Rowe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aged and Disability Advocacy (ADA) Australia.
He adds, "The ongoing restrictions will no doubt limit what we can do, as well as reminding us that the COVID risk is not far away.
“The lifting of restrictions, in the absence of a vaccine or cure, places people with a disability at a greater risk where they are not able to fully protect themselves from the virus, either because of capacity (physical/cognitive) or because of access to adequate support, transport or healthcare.”
The additional risk posed to people with disability says Mr Rowe may lead to people with disability having to continue to fight to have their voices heard.
“There is a real risk that people with a disability will be left behind…I am also fearful that our community will not be as welcoming as it was pre-COVID. It will be very easy for vulnerable groups to experience or perceive that they are being discriminated against, even where the measures have been applied as a protective measure.”
Kathie Elliot, a spokesperson for Blind Citizens Australia (BCA), says that they have already heard concerns from members about challenges navigating the new normal.
“There is obviously nervousness about getting out and about. Our response was to create an awareness campaign [#BeThatPerson] to firstly help build the confidence of our community and secondly to help educate the public on how to assist people who are vision-impaired when they are out and about [navigating the new normal].”
Disability providers are also having to also adjust to a new normal says, National Disability Services CEO, David Moody.
“Disability service providers, together with the people they support, will be making assessments about what types of activities are safe for each individual, guided by advice from authorities such as health departments and their own medical professionals.”
What the slow path back to the new normal looks like
The 3-Step Framework for a COVIDSafe Australia breaks down Australia’s recovery and the easing of restrictions into three steps, which State and Territory Governments are able to control.
Step one has seen restrictions lifted to increase work and social gatherings, the opening of outdoor dining at cafes and restaurants, and other significant changes.
Step two, which is likely to take effect in June, will allow slightly larger gatherings and more businesses reopening.
Some of the changes that will be made in step two include:
Allowing non-work gatherings of up to 20 people.
Child care centres, primary and secondary schools open as per state and territory plans and universities/technical colleges to increase face-to-face where possible.
Retail stores open.
Cafes and restaurants can seat up to 20 patrons at one time but need to maintain an average density of 4 square metres per person. However, food courts are to remain closed to seated patrons.
Indoor movie theatres, concert venues, stadiums, galleries, museums, zoos may have up to 20 patrons.
Religious gatherings may have up to 20 attendees. However, weddings may have up to 20 guests in addition to the couple and celebrant and funerals up to 50 mourners.
Every gathering must record contact details.
Beauty therapy and massage therapy venues and tattoo parlours can open with up to 20 clients in the premises and record contact details.
Step three will allow the reopening of business and the community with minimal restrictions. At this stage, there is not an exact date set but National Cabinet's goal is to have a sustainable COVID safe Australia by July 2020.
Some of the changes made in step three will include:
Non-work gatherings of up to 100 people and a return to workplace.
Cafes, restaurants and food courts can seat up to 100 people but need to maintain an average density of 4 square metres per person.
Venues open in Step 2 may have up to 100 patrons.
Allowing gatherings of up to 100 people.
Every gathering must record contact details.
All establishments allowed to open with up to 100 people.
Events are required to record contact details.
Allow interstate travel.
The National Cabinet will be continuously monitoring the situation as restrictions are eased to assess the impact of the changes.
Social distance and good hygiene still key
According to the Department of Health, the steps for helping to flatten the curve remain the same to limit the risk of the spread of the virus:
Staying 1.5 metres away from other people when and where possible.
Maintaining good hand washing and cough/sneeze hygiene.
Staying home when unwell, and getting tested if you have respiratory symptoms or a fever.
Consider downloading the COVIDSafe app so that infections can be traced.
You can visit our dedicated COVID-19 information page for the latest updates on how COVID-19 is impacting the disability sector.
What are you looking forward to doing once restrictions are lifted? Tell us in the comments below or send an email to [email protected].