Community Sector calls for collaboration and decisive leadership from National Cabinet to deal with COVID debacle

ACOSS calls for the creation of a civil society COVID Rapid Response Group including ACOSS, unions, business peaks and public health experts to work closely with government to address the impacts of the rampant spread of the Omicron and Delta COVID variants.

Millions of people on lower incomes and in high-risk groups – and the essential services that support them – are struggling with multiple impacts as the latest COVID-19 outbreaks cause havoc and suffering. Previous data showed that people on low incomes were dying of COVID at four times the rate of the rest of the community.

After consulting with community sector leaders, ACOSS has written to the Prime Minister and National Cabinet proposing urgent steps government must take to ensure people who are most at risk from the impacts of COVID-19 are protected and the essential services that support them have the resources they need.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“We are now in a phase of rapid, widespread community transmission of COVID-19 and many people are missing out on the support they need. Government needs to reassess and respond with purposeful, active and decisive leadership.

“Over the holiday period, people have been trying to protect themselves despite the constant change in circumstances and persistent uncertainty from government. Now they are struggling to access COVID-19 tests, vaccinations, medical supplies and essential goods and services.

“The pandemic continues to hit people on low incomes, people from diverse backgrounds and with pre-existing vulnerabilities the hardest. Additionally, children and young people have particular vulnerabilities that require more support at this time.

“It’s time for government to step into the breach and act swiftly. Australia requires clear and cohesive government planning and a strengthened level of coordination via the National Cabinet. It is vital that governments across the country learn the lessons from the first two years of managing the pandemic, heed the updated advice and warnings of health experts and policy advocates, and adopt best practice strategies to mitigate the health risk, economic chaos and social disruption that accompanies the virus.

ACOSS calls for the creation of a civil society COVID Rapid Response Group consisting of ACOSS, unions, business peaks and public health experts to work closely with government to implement a range of policy measures and actions to protect those most at risk:

  • Provide universal, reliable and free access to Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) with protective measures in place to prevent stockpiling and hoarding of items.
  • Ensure equitable and reliable supply in the community of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 and/P2 standards masks, and necessary medical equipment such as oximeters.
  • Increased investment in community-led health initiatives to deal with the surge in infections and its impact on people experiencing poverty and disadvantage.
    • Including, ensuring community organisations can act as distribution outlets for essential medical supplies and equipment including RATs and PPElisted above. The community sector should not have to source supplies themselves or redirect limited funds out of other essential programs for these items.
    • In particular, specific investment should be made in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations to work with their local populations.
  • Strengthen investment in the vaccine rollout for all eligible people, especially community-led health initiatives reaching eligible persons as not fully vaccinated. This includes funding increased home visits to those most at risk.
  • Development and distribution of clearer daily public information through trusted community sources and mass media platforms
  • Immediately suspend mutual obligations to safeguard people on JobSeeker and other payments, as well as job service providers until the end of February 2022.
  • Extend paid pandemic leave to all essential workers that are infected with COVID-19 or deemed a close contact of someone with the virus.
  • Develop a coherent plan for ensuring the safety and protection of students and staff in schools that adopts a ‘vaccine plus’ approach as recommended by this OzSage paper (19 December).
  • Ensure adequate income support for people on all social security payments (minimum of $69/day) and restore Pandemic Leave Payment to $750/week for everyone and extend it to people receiving income support.

ACOSS Letter to National Cabinet