New COVID-19 health directions leave people with disability as an “afterthought”

Posted 1 year ago by Liz Alderslade
Health and disability sector peak bodies are puzzled as to why the Government has changed COVID-19 isolation periods. [Source: iStock]
Health and disability sector peak bodies are puzzled as to why the Government has changed COVID-19 isolation periods. [Source: iStock]

The reduction of the COVID-19 isolation period from seven days to five days, from last Friday, has left the disability community feeling like they are an “afterthought” in Government health decisions.

The Federal Government announced in early September that isolation periods would be reduced to meet the changing circumstances of the virus, starting from Friday, 9 September, and that it would be beneficial for many workforces.

Disability and aged care workers will continue to be required to isolate for seven days.

While the change to five days of isolation for people with no symptoms has been beneficial for the wider public, health and disability peak bodies are not pleased with the decision.

National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA), disability peak body, is concerned for the wellbeing and health of people with disability due to the new reduced isolation period.

NEDA Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dwayne Cranfield, says, “The reduction of COVID-positive isolation from seven to five days, for those who are asymptomatic, overlooks those vulnerable within society.

“People who work in disability care sector will remain in isolation for seven days. However, this doesn’t address the increased risk for people with disability in broader community settings, such as the workplace.”

The organisation points out that the Australian Medical Association (AMA) is not pleased with the change either.

AMA President, Professor Stephen Robson told media at the start of September that the medical community has been puzzled by the decision to roll back isolation periods.

“We’re puzzled why they won’t release the health advice underpinning that [decision],” says Professor Robson.

“[The] best information we have at the moment is up to a third of people, even if they feel well and don’t have any symptoms, are potentially infectious [after five days].

“So if you’re looking at a strategy to reduce COVID’s effect on the workplace, it may not work as you intended. And if they’re making these changes… they’re going to need to monitor very, very closely to make sure they’re not making things worse.”

He adds that it seems that the Government is trying to treat COVID-19 the same as the flu or common cold, however, the virus is a “multi-system disease” that has the potential to cause enormous long-term impacts on people and needs to be treated differently.

Professor Robson says that people in vulnerable categories, like people with disability, are having the responsibility put on them to protect themselves from the general community.

NEDA wants the Government to consider advice suggested in its 2022 Federal Election Platform around COVID-19 management for people with disability.

The organisation recommends that the Government develop guidelines around emergency and disaster planning for people with disability, which includes COVID-19.

Additionally, it encourages all public communications to be made more accessible to people with disability, including in community languages for those from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Mr Cranfield says, “We understand the need to make Australia ‘operational again’ but feel that lifting the quarantine restrictions unfairly creates risk to people who lead compromised lives due to illness and disability.”

The organisation adds that people with disability are already vulnerable and likely to experience negative and prolonged effects of COVID-19.

This has been backed by a recent report from Victorian Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, who found that long COVID is more common and can cause more varied or significant illness in people with disability.