Government failed to support people with disabilities during Omicron outbreak, inquiry finds

There were 19 Covid-related deaths reported on Saturday, including two children under the age of nine. Video / Dean Purcell / Michael Craig / Alex Burton

By RNZ

The New Zealand Disability Support Network says people with disabilities have been overlooked in the Covid-19 response after a Human Rights Commission investigation found their wellbeing was at risk .

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero launched the March 11 inquiry into support for people with disabilities during the Omicron outbreak using the commission’s powers under the Human Rights Act 1993 of man.

The urgent investigation revealed that the responses to the spread of Omicron were causing considerable stress and confusion for people with disabilities.

New Zealand Disability Support Network chief executive Peter Reynolds said the report showed communication across the pandemic was lacking, while Covid-19 vaccinations and personal protective equipment (PPE) were difficult to access .

He said access to resources should have been a priority for the at-risk population, as was the case in Australia, where vaccines and PPE were freely available to people with disabilities from the outset.

The report contained several recommendations, including that the government work in partnership with people with disabilities in all their planning, improve information about Covid-19 so that it is easier to find and set up 24/7 service /7 when support people were sick or unavailable.

Reynolds said while the group supported the report’s recommendations, there was a missed opportunity to engage with disability support providers on how best to implement them.

Responses to the spread of Omicron have caused considerable stress and confusion among people with disabilities.  Photo/RNZ
Responses to the spread of Omicron have caused considerable stress and confusion among people with disabilities. Photo/RNZ

“We believe it is important that all relevant people are at the table to identify the best way to achieve this and the report is silent on the role of suppliers in this mix.”

The communication problem was one that had frustrated the support network, its members and the people with disabilities themselves.

“Not knowing if the [vaccine] the mandate either included or excluded disability support workers when it was first announced and having four working days to implement it was just plain silly.

“It led to an extension, but the commitment process to get there, in our view, was not necessary.”

He said if disability support service providers were around the table from the start, it would have saved the Department of Health the embarrassment of having to change the rules.

Reynolds said now is an opportunity to bring affected people together and make proactive changes.

“Covid is not going anywhere, anytime soon it will stay in one form or another there will be opportunities for these kinds of recommendations to be put in place and therefore to improve the experience that people with disabilities have under this kind of environment.”

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