A leading ethicist has warned “our hands will not be clean” if Australia reopens before the country’s most vulnerable people — who are more likely to die from COVID — are fully vaccinated.
Ethics Centre executive director Simon Longstaff told the ABC’s Q+A program it was “unforgivable” that people with disability were being “left exposed” as Australia heads down the path of throwing open borders.
“I know there are lot of arguments about the mental health costs of not opening up … but I unfortunately suspect that we will open up before that (vaccinating all people with disability) has been achieved,” said Dr Longstaff.
“And I think we as a society are going to have to accept that those who become infected and die because of their additional risk … that will be something we have to wear on our own conscience.
“Our hands will not be clean when we do it, if we do it, and I just think that it almost beggars belief that we’ve allowed this to be the situation where such a choice has to be made.”
Evidence from the UK’s experience shows six out of 10 fatalities from COVID were people with disabilities.
Fellow Q+A panellist ACTU secretary Sally McManus questioned why the federal government’s vaccine rollout had failed to vaccinate people who were meant to have been given priority.
“I visited a disability service in April this year in Western Sydney and at that stage, even though people were in 1A, they weren’t vaccinated — the workers weren’t, the residents weren’t,” Ms McManus said on ABC.
Scrapping self-isolation rule
As NSW prepares to become the first state in Australia to loosen some restrictions on October 11, self-isolation rules could be among those scrapped for the fully vaccinated.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on Friday that an overhaul of the state’s contract tracing may include allowing fully vaccinated people who have been identified as close contacts to skip two weeks self-quarantine.
This would include people identified as close contacts after visiting pubs, restaurants and shops. They would only be marked as casual contacts or “low risk” even if they have direct contact with a known case, the SMH reports.
Meanwhile the end of Victoria’s lockdown could be delayed after a weekend of AFL grand final gatherings created a huge spike in infections.
Victoria reported a record 1438 cases on Thursday, with at least 500 of the new cases believed to be linked to illegal AFL parties last weekend across Melbourne.
There are fears the journey out of lockdown could take longer if the weekend spike becomes a trend.
COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar said Victoria could face a worst scenario of up to 2900 daily infections by late October.
He urged anyone who went to any gathering at the weekend to get tested, whether they or their companions are displaying symptoms or not.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the state would continue with its plan to get out of lockdown.
But he added there may need to be a pause if numbers reach an unsustainable level before October 26, when 70 per cent of the eligible population is expected to be fully vaccinated.
To help bring that target and the 80 per cent fully vaccinated benchmark forward, the time between Pfizer vaccine doses will be halved to three weeks in Victoria starting from Monday.
In Qld, the NRL will be forced to consider postponing Sunday’s grand final as the state remains on edge after increasing infections in recent days.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said on Thursday night deferring the game was “unlikely” but it was among the contingency plans.
Since Monday the state has recorded 10 new cases that have been active and infectious in the community across six local government areas.
Stage two restrictions are now in place across Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Gold Coast, Townsville and Palm Island, with residents required to mask up when leaving home and caps on weddings, funerals and hospitality.
Federal health advisers want mandatory vaccination for all healthcare workers across the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders will receive the advice at a virtual meeting of the national cabinet on Friday afternoon.
While most jurisdictions have set dates for bringing in the measure — or put in place a range of policies covering different sections of health and aged care — others have been waiting for a national approach.
It is understood the peak advisory body, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, will recommend the move for all states and territories across all healthcare sectors.
Earlier this month the Australian Medical Association called for a national approach, including legal protections for healthcare employers who mandate vaccinations for all their staff.
The AMA said it should cover GPs and practice staff, pharmacists, all hospital staff including cleaners and cooks, and ambulance personnel, leaving no exemptions except for legitimate medical reasons.
As well the AHPPC will provide advice to the national cabinet on only allowing vaccinated people to visit aged care facilities, as will be the case in NSW from October 11.
The national cabinet will also receive updates on the spread of the Delta variant, the vaccine rollout and supply issues and pressures on the capacity of the health system.
Pushback against payment cuts
The meeting comes as business groups push back on a move agreed by the federal and state governments to scale down financial support for employers hit by lockdowns as vaccination rates hit the 70 per cent and 80 per cent thresholds.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Andrew McKellar said caution was needed.
“Reopening a business after lockdowns is not as simple as flicking a switch – it will take time for businesses to return to full capacity and get their employees back into the workplace,” he said.
Ai Group chief Innes Willox said businesses impacted by international travel restrictions would still be constrained for some time, even with high vaccination rates.
A move to make Pfizer and Moderna available to all Australians aged over 12 from Friday is expected to boost vaccination rates.
The latest health department figures show 78.5 per cent of over 70s are now fully dosed, with the proportion sitting at 71.3 per cent for over-50s and 54.2 per cent for over 16s.