Protecting People with Disability During The Covid-19 Pandemic

The Australian government has now announced a tailored COVID-19 strategy for people with disability, but it should have come sooner and may not go far enough.

People with disability are at significant risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing this as Australia’s senior government officials and politicians have barely mentioned disability.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in Australia, disability advocacy groups and academics have called for a tailored strategy for people with disability covering prevention, screening, quarantine and treatment.

The Commonwealth Government responded to these calls and last week released the Management and Operational Plan for people with disability in COVID-19. I am one of the people overseeing the development and implementation of the Plan, sitting on the Advisory Committee.

While the Plan is welcome, highlighting the Government’s commitment to upholding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD), it should have happened much earlier.

In order to uphold the right of people to have access to the same standards of health care provided free from discrimination and bias, its implementation will require detailed work. This means significant coordination between the disability care services, health sectors, and government agencies including the National Disability Insurance Agency and the National Quality and Safeguards Commission.

It also requires leadership from State and Territory and Commonwealth governments.

The slow response for people with disabilities contrasts with what we have seen for Aged Care. Here, the government planned early; in part because previous experience with influenza showed that infection can spread rapidly in congregate living (a place where a number of people reside, meet or gather in close proximity for either a limited or extended period of time) like nursing homes.

The disability support workers usually provide care to many people with disability and older Australians, increasing the network of people that the disabled person receiving care is exposed to.

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