Disability advocates have led a vigil outside Parliament House to remember the 16,000 Australians who have died from COVID-19, those who live with Long COVID, and the thousands isolating themselves at home to stay safe.
The Vigil was run by grassroots group Australians Against COVID, whose members include disability activists like Craig Wallace of Advocacy for Inclusion and Sam Connor of People With Disability Australia.
The group was formed following the Government’s decision in September to end mandatory COVID-19 isolation, a decision which left many people with disability afraid to leave home.
Yesterday, activists gathered for the vigil on the grass outside Parliament House around a tapestry of black inverted triangles, representing those who have died, and a candle display.
People stuck at home also used #VigilAgainstCOVID to send pictures of their doors to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in the hope of showing just how many people have been locked out of life by the Government’s lack of public health measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
Mr Wallace says this week marks the “tragic milestone” of 16,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Australia, which is why the vigil was held on Sunday.
“Uncaring Governments have ignored our call for a minute’s silence in Parliament for the families, friends and elders who have died, so we [went] to Parliament on Sunday to pay our respects and protest the removal of protections and the lack of support for vulnerable people,” he says.
The black inverted triangle, which was a feature of the tapestry the vigil centred around, is being used as a symbol to acknowledge those who have died because of the spread of COVID-19.
“The black triangle harkens back to symbols used by Nazi Germany to mark out disabled people and others deemed ‘unworthy’ of life,” explains Mr Wallace.
“Each triangle [on the tapestry] represents four Australians who have been killed by COVID in the biggest act of eugenics and democide (social murder) ever seen in this country.”
He says the Victorian Election, in which the Labor Party was successfully re-elected, was a reminder that Australians want reasonable health measures to keep people safe and won’t support politicians that have a ‘let it rip’ approach.
“We are demanding better – alongside the aged, health worker, educators, the unemployed and low-income people who are victims of putting lives before profits,” says Mr Wallace.
He urged the Government to pay attention to the disability community’s call to action and to take on board suggestions in the White Paper on COVID, which was issued by Advocacy for Inclusion.
The White Paper outlines a number of suggestions the Government should look at to protect people with disability from COVID-19, including:
- Co-design of prevention strategies
- Timely access to booster vaccines
- Prompt access to anti-virals and other treatments
- Mask mandates in disability services and residential settings until there is no longer uncontrolled community transmission of COVID-19
- Freely available Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs)
- Support payments for people on low incomes or with casual work, so they don’t feel compelled to work while sick
- Policies for inclusion of people who are shielding (self-isolating at home to prevent catching COVID-19) so they can access health care, goods and services
- Long COVID being recognised as a disability
The Prime Minister is yet to respond to the vigil and social media action. Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler was contacted for comment but asked the Department of Health and Aged Care to respond.
A Department spokesperson says the Government “continues taking all steps” to protect Australians and “emphasises the importance” of being up to date with COVID-19 vaccine doses.
“The Australian Government…will include the Pfizer Bivalent in the COVID-19 vaccination program for boosters in people aged 18 years or older from 12 December 2022,” the spokesperson says.
“People with disability and disability support workers are encouraged stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and public health advice and requirements in their State and Territory.”
As it is not compulsory for disability support workers to isolate, the Department spokesperson says it is “recommended” workers do not provide support for seven days after testing positive for COVID-19.
The spokesperson added that workers in “high-risk settings”, including some disability care environments can apply for the High-Risk Settings Pandemic Payment, similar to the previous pandemic income support payment, but must meet different eligibility criteria.