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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Wells to meet with aged care providers, PM with premiers, as Winter Plan swings into gear

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has agreed to hold a meeting with state and territory leaders to discuss the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country.

National Cabinet is expected to meet on Monday for a briefing on the latest medical advice and pandemic response. 

More infectious sub-variants of the virus are driving case numbers and aged care minister Anika Wells expects it to be several weeks before the peak of the latest wave arrives.

The Government outlined its response on Thursday to how aged care facilities would manage the rise in cases during winter. 

Following talks with chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly earlier this week, Wells said the peak could continue into early August.

“He is as worried about this wave as he was in December about what became the January Omicron wave,” she told reporters on Thursday.

“We are leaving no stone unturned ahead of our response to this current winter wave.”

Wells will meet with aged care providers from across the country next week in a bid to limit the spread of the virus in facilities.

The Government’s ‘Winter Plan’ in aged care is based around an increase in vaccination, antiviral access, visitor and worker safety, infection control training and proactive engagement.

As of Wednesday, 819 aged care facilities across the country are experiencing an outbreak.

The weekly average of deaths in aged care has also risen, from 69 to 91, with 2141 fatalities in facilities so far this year.

The Government is under fire for its decision to allow a scheme giving free rapid antigen tests (RATs) to concession card holders to wrap up at the end of the month.

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns called on the Federal Government to also reinstate pandemic leave payments for workers who are forced to isolate because they have tested positive.

That scheme finished at the end of June and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the decision was made by the previous Government.

“We inherited those cut offs across a range of decisions from the former Government,” he said.

“We have added three months’ health funding for the state and territory governments … because the pandemic continues to have an impact.”

Health Minister Mark Butler said he regretted the decision, but said the payments had to come to an end eventually.

“Unfortunately, whenever an emergency payment arrangement is withdrawn or comes to an end, there will be an impact on the community, whatever time that was,” he said.

Butler also said he was worried by misinformation about testing requirements.

“There is no change to the arrangements that are in place right through the pandemic,” he said.

“If you think you have COVID, if you have symptoms, if you’re exposed as a close contact anywhere in Australia, you can access a COVID test free of charge through the state government.

“I am concerned about misinformation that has been spread that there will be change to the free COVID testing arrangements in place for some time now.”

Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) interim chief executive Paul Sadler welcomed the Winter Plan.

“While aged care providers in residential, home and community care are better prepared now compared to last year, a chief concern is workforce availability,” Sadler said.

“At the height of the Omicron wave providers had anywhere between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of their workforce absent due to COVID infection placing an enormous strain on remaining staff to keep caring for residents.

“It’s welcome news that the Australian Defence Force remains available to assist.

“The timing is especially unfortunate given the rapid escalation in the number of COVID outbreaks affecting aged care providers across the country in the past week.

“The aged care system is already under extreme pressure from COVID, so every bit of help is needed,” he said.

The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) has also given the plan the thumbs up.

“We know older people are at higher risk of complications, so it’s important that we step up and support them as COVID and influenza cases increase,” OPAN acting CEO, Karen Doyle said.

“We also know older people were disproportionally affected by the last wave of lockdowns.

“The aim is to balance infection risk with the mental, physical and nutritional impact of extended periods of social isolation…

“Vaccination remains the best form of protection against COVID, so it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves,” Doyle said.

“We cannot be complacent when it comes to protecting ourselves and those around us,” she said.

“Our advice to both aged care providers and older people is clear: get your booster shot and follow the latest health advice.

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