Aged Care Minister, Anika Wells, is urging the leaders of all Australian states and territories to maintain mask and vaccine mandates for visitors across the aged care sector.
Speaking in an interview with Patricia Karvelas on ABC Radio National yesterday, Minister Wells spoke about the federal government’s newly released Winter Plan guide for residential aged care providers.
In what Minister Wells described as a “proactive engagement element” of the winter plan, the Minister revealed that she had written to the leaders of Australian states and territories and asked them to resist the temptation of easing COVID restrictions for aged care.
This news comes only days after New South Wales announced plans to allow unvaccinated visitors into aged care homes across the state, despite ongoing backlash from some medical professionals and provider lobby groups.
When asked if she feared that easing restrictions may cost lives in Australian nursing homes, Minister Wells was adamant in her response.
“The Chief Medical Officer said, the best thing we can do is get the vax rates up. The best thing we can do is ensure that every resident has access to antivirals if they need it. And that’s something I’ll actually be talking to the providers about.”
Minister Wells said that there are currently 819 COVID outbreaks in aged care homes across the country as of Wednesday.
“We do count an outbreak as one resident or two workers,” said Minister Wells.
“So, an outbreak in a facility could mean, and often does mean, one resident has COVID.”
The Minister told listeners that 70% of Australian aged care residents have had a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine and that antiviral medication and readily available personal protective equipment (PPE) will play a big role in combating COVID-19 in aged care facilities.
“Basically, we have procured enough [antiviral medication] for aged care residential facilities, and we have, along with additional PPE, dispatched it ahead of this anticipated wave. So, unlike previous winters, when everyone was scrambling, everyone was in a reactive mode,” she said.
“People couldn’t get PPE, I heard dreadful stories about people having to share gloves and masks and things. Those stock issues are not there this time, those stock is waiting at facilities ready for use.”
While Minister Wells was candid in her thoughts regarding COVID in aged care, the Minister did defend the government’s actions when asked if they were mismanaging the pandemic through the current health spend and COVID response.
Ms Karvelas asked Minister Wells why the federal government will no longer be supplying free Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to vulnerable people when she attacked the Morrison government for not supplying RAT tests in a speech earlier this year.
“The stock’s here now, like, you’re not going to have to go to a BP [station] to pay 50 bucks for one RAT like people were having to do in January, the stock is here. You can get RATs today. For eight bucks each, you can stockpile now if that was something that concerns you,” she said.
This Monday is set to be a pivotal day for the future of COVID restriction in both aged care and in the broader community.
Minister Wells plans to engage with more than 1,000 aged care providers on Monday to discuss the newly released Winter Plan.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also agreed to hold a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders due to their growing concern about the COVID-19 situation and changes to federal support.
Despite mounting pressure from state leaders and some of Labor’s own backbenchers, the Albanese government has shown no intention to reverse the decision to end pandemic leave payments for people isolating with COVID, including aged care workers.