We are writing to express our concerns about the lack of commitment to an urgent nationwide rollout of free Rapid Antigen Tests to everyone, and the absence of support for people who test positive to COVID.
Australia currently has one of the highest rates of new COVID cases per capita in the world. Our infrastructure has not been coping, and it is extremely difficult to access PCR tests at the moment. We have been told to use Rapid Antigen Tests where possible, but lack of supply and price gouging have made this an inaccessible option.
Many people who have been exposed to COVID-19 are currently unable to access any kind of test. This is dangerous on many levels – it means our case numbers are inaccurate, contact tracing is not being carried out, people with COVID are not being provided with appropriate healthcare, and those who test positive via RAT are unable to access the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.
As of 5 January, NSW’s PCR test positivity rate is over 30%, meaning that daily case numbers are far higher than estimated.
The federal government has recently announced a decision to provide a maximum of 10 RATs over 3 months to concession card holders and people in unspecified high risk settings. This is not enough. When PCR tests are impossible to access, everyone in the community must have access to RATs as a matter of public health. There are many people living in Australia who are high risk but who are not on Centrelink (or eligible for it). Given that there is often a gap of a few days between exposure and positive RAT results, provision of less than one RAT per week is woefully inadequate, especially when testing is also required for household contacts or support workers.
Many countries around the world are offering Rapid Antigen Tests for free or a fixed low price. The UK, for example, offers free packs of Rapid Antigen Tests that can be ordered for home delivery or picked up from locations such as pharmacies and libraries. They also encourage people who test positive via RAT to report their test results online to the NHS.
The Disability Justice Network of Australia has provided over $4000 directly to high-risk individuals so that they can purchase Rapid Antigen Tests. For many of us this is a matter of survival.
We are currently receiving a large number of requests from NDIA Local Area Coordinators and disability providers who are unable to source RATs for disabled people and NDIS participants supported by their organisations. This is a shameful indictment on the failures of governance that have led to this point. Vulnerable members of society should never have to rely on informal grassroots peer-led networks for supports that are the responsibility of the government, health services, or the NDIS.
Access to testing benefits everyone, and keeps all of us safer.
We are asking the Prime Minister and State and Federal MPs of Australia to commit to supporting and delivering an official federal COVID testing and support strategy, which would include:
- Provision of free Rapid Antigen Tests to everyone, at fixed numbers if necessary, with priority given to those who are high risk, including people with disabilities, people at high risk due to medical conditions including those who are immunocompromised, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, people experiencing homelessness, and people in high risk settings such as prisons, disability group homes and refuges.
- A registration system so that people who test positive via RAT can be counted in COVID case numbers and be provided with accurate information and appropriate healthcare.
- Provision of portable oximeters and thermometers to people who are managing COVID at home, so that they can monitor their symptoms and know when they are in danger and need to go to hospital.
- Provision of N95 masks to COVID patients and their households, and people who are high risk and their households.
- Provision of appropriate healthcare support to all COVID positive patients, especially those who are high risk. This should include risk assessments and check-ins from healthcare professionals, access to emergency medications if necessary (for example prednisolone for asthmatics), and effective triage pathways for access to emergency care.
We are in crisis and our communities are struggling to cope. Hospital systems are overloaded, and testing and tracing infrastructures are stretched far beyond capacity. These measures will ensure that people can still access testing and care despite the structural failures we are currently facing.
Will you commit to supporting these essential measures, and work towards an urgent federal COVID testing and support strategy to be announced by your party? Will you live up to your responsibilities as elected political representatives, and fight for the people you were elected to represent?
The Disability Justice Network
This is an archived copy of a letter written by DJN members and sent to political representatives across the continent.
We strongly encourage people to contact their local MPs personally. You can find details about how to do that here, and contact information here, here and here. Feel free to use this letter as a template. Letters and emails are most effective when they are personalised, and include your name and electorate.