The Federal Government is resisting growing calls to extend support programs for vulnerable people and those on low incomes despite dire warnings about tripling daily caseloads in the coming weeks from ACT Health.
Earlier in the week, Federal Health Minister Mark Butler also warned there would be millions of people infected by COVID-19 in the coming weeks.
But the ACT Government, which said it is still in discussions about how best it will support vulnerable Canberrans as part of the Territory’s COVID-19 response throughout the winter season and beyond, has outlined a range of support programs that will remain in place.
Recently, the Albanese Government has announced it will not extend a free rapid antigen test distribution scheme for concession-card holders and will scrap pandemic leave payments.
It has portrayed those decisions as necessary to tackle the budget deficit and high debt it inherited.
But they have been criticised by advocates, unions and medical bodies.
ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) CEO Dr Emma Campbell described those moves as being at odds with Prime Minister Albanese’s election night promise to “leave no one behind”.
“People are bracing for another COVID-19 wave, and those on low incomes are already going to extreme measures to make ends meet, pay rising energy bills, and keep a roof over their head in an exceptionally cold winter,” she said.
Dr Campbell described the free RAT scheme as a ” sensible policy ” that would support people on low incomes and the broader public health response.
“As the ACT faces the prospect of 3000 COVID-19 cases a day, now is not the time to remove access to the key supports that have protected the health and wellbeing of individuals, their families and the wider community,” she said.
The ACT Government sought to reassure the community free COVID-19 testing is still available through its PCR clinics.
A spokesperson for the government said it would also provide rapid antigen tests for household contacts who cannot obtain them from their workplace or where they would experience financial hardship, with collection available at the COVID-19 Surge Centre.
Students and teachers will be able to access free RATs through their school as per the arrangements in Term 2.
The ACT Government also provides on-demand testing kits to disability and in-home aged care workers, people with a self-managed National Disability Insurance Scheme plan and non-government organisation frontline service workers.
Government-funded community organisations that support clients who are likely to be at risk of severe disease from COVID-19 and are providing personal care services can also receive free RATs.
Those programs are in place until the end of September this year.
The government spokesperson said NDIS participants can also use core supports in their plan to claim for RATs.
The government is also encouraging businesses to provide RATs to staff deemed household contacts if they wish to return to the workplace.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been supplied to community sector organisations, including disability providers, since 2020.