Pandemic polemic – report says Australia’s Covid response failed most vulnerable

Australia’s Covid-19 response failed the nation’s most vulnerable people and in many cases amounted to overreach, according to a new report.

Oct 20, 2022, updated Oct 20, 2022
Former Chief Health Officer and now Governor Jeannette Young was a strong advocate for wearing masks during the pandemic. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Former Chief Health Officer and now Governor Jeannette Young was a strong advocate for wearing masks during the pandemic. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

The report – Fault lines: An independent review into Australia’s response to Covid-19 – led by ex-public servant Professor Peter Shergold, also found some lockdowns and border closures weren’t necessary and schools should have remained open.

It sounds a warning to governments against the perils of overreach when dealing with future health crises.

“For many of us, the story of Covid-19 will be one of inconvenience,” the private sector funded report says.

“It will be a story of cutting our own hair, struggling to exercise, missed holidays, too much takeaway … and endless Zoom meetings.

“For others, Covid-19 will be a story of trauma, isolation and terrifying uncertainty.

“It will be a story of being locked in overcrowded housing, job loss and missing out on government supports.

“It will be a story of more domestic violence, increased alcohol abuse, deteriorating mental and physical health.

“It will be a story of loss and the brutal realisation of not being able to say final goodbyes to loved ones.”

The report, released on Thursday, says politically driven health orders and excessive lockdowns failed to protect the old, ignored the young and abandoned disadvantaged communities.

“It’s imperative that we heed these lessons and take action to ensure we’re better prepared for whatever the next health crisis is – because we know there will be another one,”  Shergold said in a statement.

While school closures were probably the right decision when the virus was little understood, “it was wrong to close entire school systems, particularly once new information indicated that schools were not high-transmission environments”, the report says.

“For children and parents (particularly women), we failed to get the balance right between protecting health and imposing long-term costs on education, mental health, the economy and workforce outcomes.”

As well, Covid-19 rules were often enforced in ways that lacked fairness and compassion.

“Business people were often allowed to travel across borders whilst those wanting to visit dying loved ones or newborn family members were not afforded a similar opportunity,” the report says.

Shergold called on Australian governments to consider the report’s recommendations, which include putting the most vulnerable at the centre of future health crisis planning.

It also recommends the establishment of an Australian centre for disease control, more transparency around decision making and better collaboration across state lines.

The review was funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation, the Minderoo Foundation and the John and Myriam Wylie Foundation.

The review panel included Shergold, Jillian Broadbent, Isobel Marshall and Peter Varghese.

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