Government criticised for failing to plan for Omicron

The federal government is being roundly criticised for its failure to prepare for the outbreak of the Omicron variant, as thousands are told to go into self-imposed lockdown.

Older Australians in particular are being encouraged to lock themselves down over the next few weeks as the Omicron wave reaches its peak.

There are also claims that aged care residents in hundreds of residential facilities are “going without essential care” as homes face staff shortages due to COVID isolation requirements.

Last week, national cabinet made changes to isolation rules to allow close contacts who aren’t showing symptoms to return to work as soon as they pass a rapid antigen test (RAT).

But the availability of RATs has been scarce at best over the past few weeks, with supplies not set to stabilise until sometime in February.

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Delays in accessing RATs meant some aged care facilities had as much as 50 per cent of staff in isolation.

Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese said older Australians and particularly aged care residents had every right to be angry at the government and its ‘let it rip’ approach to opening up.

“When people saw [PM] Scott Morrison there on TV being flippant saying, ‘We’re living with COVID, we’re taking wickets with the virus’, they were entitled to be quite angry and frustrated at the failure of this government to put in place the mechanisms that were required,” Mr Albanese said.

“Scott Morrison was so determined everything would be back to normal by Christmas. It just didn’t reflect the health advice, it didn’t reflect the advice from operators.”

There are COVID outbreaks in 1100 residential aged care facilities, representing around 7000 individual cases. That is about 40 per cent of the sector as a whole.

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Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Paul Sadler told SBS News he believed that number would only rise.

“We believe we’ll go to more than half of the aged care homes in Australia having outbreaks by the close of this week,” Mr Sadler said.

“It’s an exponential growth and very worrying for the residents and the family and staff.”

For older Australians not living in residential care, epidemiologist Dr James Trauer says they should consider entering a self-imposed lockdown over the next few weeks to stay safe.

“People in medical research and epidemiology were (originally) talking about how we could shield elderly people and I think we should be thinking that way again,” Dr Trauer told Melbourne radio station 3AW.

“Only for a short period of time, for a few weeks. For an elderly person, just while the hospitals are as stressed as they are, just try to shield yourself away, stay away from your contacts.”

Read: What you need to know about Omicron and masks

Experts say the Omicron wave has likely peaked in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, while it is still about two weeks away in Queensland.

In the Northern Territory, chief health officer Hugh Heggie has suggested the Omicron peak there could be expected in early February, while in Tasmania things are improving but authorities still feel the peak has not yet been reached.

The big outlier is Western Australia. After remaining closed off to the rest of the nation for the majority of the past two years, WA has largely managed to avoid the astronomical case numbers seen in the eastern states.

But with numbers there steadily rising, it seems just a matter of time before WA has an Omicron peak of its own.

What could the government have done better in preparing for Omicron? Have you had your booster shot? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer