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ACOSS calls on National Cabinet to urgently address crippling Omicron inequities

National Cabinet must find new ways to address the reality that those with the least are being hit hardest by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They’re at the back of the queue to access boosters and Rapid Antigen Tests, and most are at risk as Omicron continues to spread across the country just as schools prepare to reopen.

Separate news stories today in NSW and the Northern Territory report fresh evidence of surging infections in disadvantaged communities and widening vaccine, RATS, mask and other inequities.

ACOSS is writing urgently today to the National Cabinet for the second time this year, identifying a further 9 policy recommendations that respond to the rapidly changing situation on the ground and to stress that many service systems are under severe strain. The letter calls on the Prime Minister and National Cabinet to adopt not only these 9 additional recommendations but the 42 recommendations provided to them on 12 January 2022.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“The blunt reality is that Australia is still not ready to deal effectively with Omicron. People with concession cards can’t find RATs on pharmacy shelves even after the government program has commenced. Parents are confused and stressed about what the return to school looks like for their children. People in regional, rural and remote communities remain extremely exposed to the ravages of COVID-19. It’s still a mess, and only decisive and swift government action will remedy it
“Whether its infection rates, access to vaccinations, access to RATs and other vital health equipment or access to medical services, this pandemic continues to hit people on low incomes, people from diverse backgrounds and with pre-existing vulnerabilities the hardest. It’s been a long, hard slog for people facing the greatest risks of this pandemic, and one month into the New Year, nothing has gotten safer for them”
“There is an urgent need for better forward planning, crisis management and prioritisation of resources to support those most at risk and with the least means to stay safe. The approach to this emergency is totally inadequate.
“The revelations today on the huge gap in booster uptake between high income and low-income areas shows the truth about how this pandemic is impacting our communities. We’ll never be able to get the better of this virus as a community if we don’t have a clear and detailed understanding of how the virus impacts different populations and postcodes. The Federal Government continues to refuse to release data that would make public the scale of the issues, and the deep inequities in who is being affected, and how.”
“It is highly unlikely Omicron will be the last variant we face and our experience of grappling with COVID-19 is far from finished. We simply must be better prepared.
“Once again, in a vacuum of coordinated national leadership, 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 the government to implement a range of policy measures and actions to protect those most at risk.
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.
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