Royal Commission “deeply concerned” about effects of Omicron wave

Posted 2 years ago by Anna Christian
The Disability Royal Commission says there are gaps in the Government’s plans to protect people with disability from COVID-19. [Source: Shutterstock]
The Disability Royal Commission says there are gaps in the Government’s plans to protect people with disability from COVID-19. [Source: Shutterstock]

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has released a statement outlining its ongoing concern about the health, safety and wellbeing of people with disability during the current Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission says in the statement that it is deeply concerned that people with disability are still not being appropriately prioritised in health care, disability support and the vaccine and booster rollout.

“Advocacy groups and key organisations have expressed acute fears for the health, safety and wellbeing of people with disability,” the Commission says.

“People with disability often rely on family, friends and support workers to provide essential

services. We have been told that during the current phase of the pandemic, many of these

people have not been able to provide their usual support.”

The pandemic continues to expose inequities, discrimination and exclusion of people with disability, the Commission says, despite its previous reports and recommendations to change the situation.

“Many of the broader questions that arose near the start of the pandemic for people with

disability have returned,” the Commission says.

“We have heard that the more virulent Omicron variant, combined with the significant easing of restrictions in many States and Territories in late 2021 as part of the strategy of ‘living with COVID’, has created problems for people with disability reminiscent of those identified in the Commissioners’ Report for Public Hearing 5 and Public Hearing 12.”

The Royal Commission has asked for data and information from the Federal Government about plans to protect people with disability during the Omicron wave but says “there are still significant gaps”.

An Issues Paper is being prepared by the Commission to identify areas of concern, which will include the experiences of people with disability to determine the current situation and analyse Government data to see whether the right protections are in place for the expected spike in COVID-19 and influenza cases over winter.

There will be ten areas of concern covered in the Paper:

  • Overall de-prioritisation of people with disability and lack of regard for their health and wellbeing, indicating a lack of systemic preparedness and service coordination
  • Significant data gaps and reporting in relation to vaccination rates, the rates of infection, and mortality of all people with disability as well as concerns around language used by Governments in the public reporting of deaths relating to COVID-19 and the underlying health status of individuals
  • Access to vaccinations and boosters for people with disability and disability support workers and insufficient levels of immunisation when restrictions were eased and during the current wave
  • Severe disruptions to disability services and essential supports due to furloughing of staff, fears around transmission and a lack of access to testing
  • Access to essential health services and fears of health rationing as healthcare systems become inundated as well as access to newly approved anti-viral medications
  • Lack of equipment (Rapid Antigen Tests [RATs], PCR tests, Personal Protective Equipment) and support and guidance for effective infection prevention and control, including the lack of accessible testing tools and accessible public health information or interpreting services for some people with disability
  • Concerns with managing COVID-19 in the home for people for disability
  • Lack of adequate and meaningful consultation with the disability sector and people with disability to inform this phase of the pandemic response
  • Isolation for people with disability needing to shield at home for extended periods, with anxieties about potential infection from those providing critical support and a lack of access to these critical services
  • Reduced formal and informal oversight mechanisms in closed residential settings for people with disability, with an increase in the risk of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation

The Commission says it expects to publish the Issues Paper in early to mid March.

The final submission dates for the Royal Commission have also been announced, with anyone who would like to register for a private session needing to do so before 30 June this year.

The private session doesn’t have to be held before then, only the registration has to be completed.

Anyone sending in a submission to the Commission in a written, spoken, recorded, videoed or other format will need to do so in time for it to be received by 31 December this year.

So far, the Royal Commission has received more than 3,500 submissions, over 11,750 phone enquiries and held more than 800 private sessions.

The Commission’s schedule so far this year includes four public hearings held over 13 days between February and April and it expects to return to face-to-face public hearings in Hobart in March.

The final report by the Commission is due on 29 September, 2023.