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National Cabinet COVID decision is perverse political point scoring

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National Cabinet has controversially scrapped the mandatory isolation period and sickness payments for COVID sufferers (Image by Dan Jensen)

Backflipping on COVID isolation periods seems politically motivated in order for a Labor win in the Victorian Election, writes Imi Timms.

OUR LIVES are governed by essential regulations to keep us safe. Seatbelts. Helmets. Speed limits. They build on an imperative premise — protect the individual and save the community.

The National Cabinet’s decision to quash mandatory isolation periods is the antithesis of progressive social reform, prioritising the quality of life for the privileged over the health of vulnerable Australians.

The decision is jarring, but not unexpected. The Liberals have scored the change they clamoured for, but the ALP has undermined the fabric of their pandemic policy. Given the anti-“Dictator Dan” rhetoric that will inevitably swell before the looming Victorian Election, is Labor trying to swing a few cheap votes prior to the polling booth?

By assisting with a “return to normal life”, the Victorian Labor Party can re-position itself as the party that defended the state in the throes of COVID-19 and then walked us out of the turbulence and into the sunshine. 

But for many Australians, the plane is still rattling. The National Cabinet’s decision is damning for vulnerable people and their communities, including family, friends and healthcare workers.

As of 4 October, over 5,100 cases of COVID-19 were being reported daily nationally. And they’re just the ones we know about. Seven Victorians lost their lives to COVID-19 on 4 October, with a further eight in ICU and 143 in hospital. We also know that COVID-19 is indiscriminate; it’s not only the vulnerable who experience its dire consequences. And even if that were the case, it would be morally corrupt to implement a policy that disregards their right to a safe and healthy existence.

This fiction that the pandemic is “over” is untrue at best and deadly at worst. The push towards “normal life” is an untenable fallacy amidst an ongoing health crisis that nurtures ableist attitudes.

‘“Normal” has never served my community. “Normal” endangers, stigmatises, demonises and kills in the name of accepted and engrained bias,” says disability advocate and law student, Bridie Cochrane-Holley. “Community safety should never be a luxury; it should be a requirement and a priority.’

‘I’ll leave the political punditry to others, but what I would say is it’s really disappointing to see the response to COVID increasingly being shaped by electoral politics and considerations other than public health,’ added Craig Wallace, head of policy at Advocacy for Inclusion.

He added:

‘The whole premise of seminal Labor reforms like Medicare and the NDIS was that health care or disability care was a shared responsibility and shouldn’t fall to those least able to bear the burden. Applied to the pandemic, this would mean the community doing everything it could – within reason – to ensure the most vulnerable people didn’t have to shoulder all the burden of isolation and COVID risk.’

This isn’t a call for us to scurry into our houses and re-instate lockdown living, but instead to re-evaluate the catastrophic risk that cancelling isolation periods presents. Danger is inherent in any society, yes, but risk mitigation is paramount to civilisation.

‘Victoria supports the unanimous decision made by National Cabinet,’ a Victorian Government spokesperson said:

‘We've kept essential measures in place to protect vulnerable Victorians, like vaccine mandates in healthcare and aged care settings, and we're encouraging all Victorians to stay up to date with their vaccines, stay home when sick and wear a mask when they can't socially distance to help the most vulnerable in our community.’

If we all abided by these suggestions, perhaps we wouldn’t need to be so alarmed about the absence of mandatory isolation periods. Yet, we know Australians’ interest in vaccine boosters is beginning to wane. Staying home when sick is an option now limited to the privileged without the pandemic leave payments. Masks are ditched frequently.

Whilst Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, was correct in saying that we need to consider the context of this decision with regard to vaccination rates and immunity from prior infections, this “context” needs to incorporate the fact that people are still being infected and dying from COVID-19 every day.

‘Disheartened, angry and scared to see the news that National Cabinet has scrapped mandatory isolation periods and the COVID isolation payments,’ says Carly Findlay, writer, disability and appearance activist. ‘This is shit. It's scary. I feel we have been let down by our leaders.’

Australians’ health is being sacrificed for the sake of “normal” life, or perhaps for perverse political point scoring.

Humanity, it seems, has dropped off the National Cabinet’s agenda.

Imi Timms is a freelance writer, with work published in The Guardian, The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, news.com.au and Fashion Journal. You can find her on Twitter @newyorktimms.

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National Cabinet COVID decision is perverse political point scoring

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