PWDA Board Position Statement on the COVID Emergency

31 December 2021

PWDA holds significant concerns about the safety of people with disability in relation to the announcements following yesterday’s National Cabinet meeting.

COVID is a highly transmissible virus. The policy decisions announced yesterday will cause serious and immediate danger for many highly vulnerable individuals, especially clinically vulnerable people with disability. 

Refusing to ensure disabled people are safe will result in widespread and perverse outcomes, including the failure of our health systems and disability market failure, resulting in severe illness and death.

Redefinition of close contacts 

We share the concerns of the Australian Medical Association outlined in their recent statement, which condemned the redefinition of ‘close contacts’ to mean people who have been exposed to a positive case for four hours or more. 

Many disabled people employ workers (including in the community) for shifts lasting less than four hours. When personal care involves close physical contact, especially in congregate settings, the risk is heightened disproportionately. 

We call upon Federal, State and Territory authorities to urgently reassess this decision after immediate consultation with independent disability and health experts, including peak disability bodies.

Rapid Antigen Testing and Other Preventative Measures

The Board of PWDA calls for free rapid antigen testing to be made readily available to all people with disability and clinically vulnerable individuals who are at risk of severe disease, their families and workers.

We further call upon government to fund and make readily available free N95 masks for people who are clinically vulnerable to COVID.

Over half of all people with disability in Australia live in poverty, It is an unreasonable impost upon highly vulnerable and marginalised groups to have to shoulder an unattainable financial burden simply to stay alive. 

Free or heavily Government subsidised tests should be readily available to the public via pharmacies, community pick up points, education settings, workplaces and other public settings.

In the UK, PWD and their caregivers are able to access rapid antigen tests, including via mail, as part of a twice weekly preventative regime to ensure that PWD who receive care are safe from COVID.

Rapid antigen testing is an important part of supplementary protective measures and should not replace PCR testing, but be part of a range of preventative safety measures such as hand hygiene, crowd density control, social distancing, contact tracing, good air quality and wearing masks. 

We support the AMA position, that governments should focus on the supply and distribution of RATs with clear instructions on their use, when they are required and what to do with positive and negative results.

We do not support the use of RATs in place of PCR testing for asymptomatic close contacts.

We call upon the Federal Government to fund and distribute adequate supplies of rapid antigen testing to all people with disability and clinically vulnerable individuals who are at risk of severe disease, their families and workers.

PCR testing should be made available to people with disability at home if they are unable to safely access a test or live in a congregate setting. 

Human rights, government responsibilities and ethical decision making

Recent statements by Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the role of the government, individuals and the private market are concerning and do not accurately reflect the responsibilities the Australian Government holds in relation to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Australia is a signatory to the CRPD, which says that ‘people with disability should be afforded all necessary measures to ensure their protection and safety in situations of risk’.

We reiterate the DPOA Framework of human rights principles for ethical decision-making

  1. Health care should not be denied or limited to people with disability on the basis of impairment.
  2. People with disability should have access to health care, including emergency and critical health care, on the basis of equality with others and based on objective and non-discriminatory clinical criteria.
  3. Health care should not be denied or limited because a person with disability requires reasonable accommodation or adjustment.
  4. Health care should be provided on the basis of free and informed consent of the person with disability.
  5. Health care should not be denied or limited based on quality of life judgements about the person with disability.
  6. Ethical decision-making frameworks should be designed with close consultation and active involvement of people with disability and their representative organisations.

DPOA’s statement on human rights and ethical decision making can be found here

State and Territory governments must also take responsibility for their respective States, especially in regards to their responsibilities around health and safety under Australia’s Disability Strategy.

Federal, state and local decision makers should bear equal responsibility for continuity of disability services and filling market gaps in critical situations. Rapid surge workplace arrangements must be implemented, as well as arrangements for home deliveries of meals and increased flexibility around NDIS funding arrangements, including restrictions on meal deliveries as ‘stated supports’.

Governments must not abrogate their responsibilities toward people with disability at a time of immense crisis. We call upon those charged with responsibility for our health and safety to take immediate action.