The extension and expansion of military support in Australian aged care homes amid new Covid-19 outbreaks was an “extreme measure” but “the right thing to do,” the country’s deputy prime minister said on Monday.
On Sunday, the government announced that residential aged care homes experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks will be able to receive help from more defense force personnel until the end of September, an extension of the Aug. 12 deadline.
Since February, the military has provided clinical and non-clinical support to aged care homes hit by staffing shortages.
“It is an extreme measure (…) but as I said, it’s important to understand that we can’t see this as a normal fall back, to go to the defense force,” deputy prime minister and defense minister Richard Marles told public broadcaster ABC on Monday. “But given the number of outbreaks that we’ve got right now, this is the right thing to do.”
Up to 250 defense forces and general duties personnel may be deployed for the aged care support and clinician-led teams.
“It’s an important step, given what the sector faces. It’s obviously important to note that this is not a long-term solution; it’s not what the defense force is for. But in this moment, it’s really important that we do everything we can to provide all the assistance necessary,” Marles told ABC.
A third Omicron wave in the country, driven by the subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, has caused over 1,000 outbreaks in the more than 2,600 aged care homes, which have more than 200,000 residents, according to official data from last week.
According to sources from the government and the sector, some 6,000 residents and around 3,400 workers have been infected across the country during this wave.
The Aged and Community Care Providers Association has said that up to 15 percent of staff are isolated or quarantined at home, so staffing problems in the homes are expected to increase.
“Aged care providers and individual homes have a responsibility to manage staff, including surge workforce arrangements,” Anika Wells, Minister for Aged Care, said on Sunday.
“When sufficient staff can’t be found during an outbreak, they will be able to ask the Department of Health and Aged Care to deploy a surge workforce, or [defense force] team, to support them through their immediate crisis. This is expected to be for short periods to allow more homes to be supported during outbreaks,” she added.
There has been a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Australia since it gradually began re-opening its international borders in November and returned to business as usual.
A total of 2,301 elderly people have died from Covid-19 in Australia so far this year, the Aged & Community Services Australia CEO, Paul Sadler, told public broadcaster SBS over the weekend.
According to official figures, Australia has recorded more than 9 million Covid-19 cases, including over 11,000 deaths.
More than 95 percent of the country’s population over 16 years of age has been double vaccinated, 54.5 percent has received a third dose, and half a million people have been vaccinated with a fourth. EFE