Flu vaccine should be free for all Australians: Greens

Australian Greens health spokesperson Dr Richard Di Natale has written to the federal health minister calling for the influenza vaccine to be made available free of charge to all Australians as part of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ensuring everyone can access the flu vaccine for free is a clear step that will provide multiple benefits to the public and to our health system,” Dr Di Natale said today.

“This is a time-critical decision. We have a narrow window of time in which to act, before flu season hits and while there is time to get the required vaccines into the country.

“People with the flu will be at significantly increased risk if they contract COVID-19, regardless of how healthy they may be, so first and foremost, this vaccine will protect them from possibly life-threatening illness.

“This is even more important for people who we know are more vulnerable to this coronavirus.

“Urgently ensuring that all Australians can get the flu vaccine for free will also reduce the number of people who develop upper respiratory tract symptoms from influenza. This will ease stress and anxiety among people who are concerned about potentially having the COVID-19 virus, and will lessen the burden on testing processes.

“The new restrictions on access to aged care facilities will require people to have received the flu vaccination for entry, so ensuring this vaccine is free for everyone is important.

“At a time when many people are facing unemployment, reduced hours and uncertain months ahead, Australians should not be forced to choose between paying for the flu vaccine and going without other essentials.

“It is critical that the government take these necessary steps as a matter of urgency.

“This is a practical and straightforward measure that will save lives, keep more people healthy and lessen the burden on our health system,” said Dr Di Natale.

Disabled People & Carers left out of $130 billion stimulus

Australian Greens Disability spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John said the Government’s failure to extend the $550 COVID-19 supplement to people receiving the Disability Support Pension (DSP) and Carer Payment in Yesterday’s $130 billion stimulus package was an indictment on their attitude to disabled people and carers.

“It’s clear that this government is still not taking the needs of disabled people and their families seriously enough in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Steele-John said.

“The Disability Support Pension and Carer Payment exist in recognition of fact that disabled people and carers have higher everyday costs and face significant barriers to entering the workforce. Those costs and barriers have increased, not decreased, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Disabled people and carers are also having to factor in higher costs for transport, medical supplies and support workers, as well as unplanned costs for personal protective equipment to stay safe when venturing out into the community.
“To be quite honest, I’m shocked that people receiving the disability support pension and carer payment have been left out of a such a massive stimulus package.

“Everyone on the disability support pension and the carer payment needs to be able to access the $550 supplement to help them get through this crisis.”

Govt’s Job Keeper payment fails many in arts, entertainment and creative industry

The Federal Government’s Job Keeper payment rules fail many in the arts, entertainment and creative industry which employs many casuals and seasonal workers, the Greens say.

Greens Spokesperson for the Arts Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said while the payment is welcome, she is extremely worried for casual employees who won’t meet the threshold 12-months employed to qualify for the Job Keeper payment.

“The casualisation of our workforce particularly in those hardest hit industries – hospitality tourism and arts and entertainment – means employees in these sectors work seasonally and festival to festival and there is a large churn. They shouldn’t miss out because they haven’t had their positions for 12 months,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“The Government has shown a lack of understanding about how these sectors operate and their work structures.

“The Greens will fight to amend these rules so employees can be kept on regardless of whether they have been there for 12 months. We will try to make sure people who have lost their job during this crisis get the support they need.

“Hospitality, tourism and arts and entertainment industries are intertwined and will be crucial to our economic recovery.

“We need to keep people connected to their regular workplaces to give these hardest-hit sectors the best chance to rebound after this crisis.”

Ensuring continued access to medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Australian Government has approved a number of temporary changes to medicines regulation to ensure Australians can continue to access the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medicines they need, as the COVID-19 outbreak unfolds.

We are also closely monitoring the impact of the pandemic on the supply of medicines, especially those manufactured overseas, so we can take early action to address any potential supply interruptions.

New temporary measures will improve access to medicines, reduce the burden on GPs and support social distancing and self-isolation.

The measures include:

  • Continued dispensing arrangements for the ongoing supply PBS subsidised medicines without a prescription will be extended to 30 June 2020.
  • A home delivery service for PBS and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (RPBS) medicines is now in place.
  • Ongoing work with pharmacists, GPs and the States and Territories to allow medicine substitution by the pharmacist in the event of a shortage.
  • Restrictions on the quantity of medicines that can be purchased to prevent unnecessary medicine stockpiling.

These temporary changes will ensure Australians can access the medicines they need throughout the coronavirus outbreak.

Continued dispensing

Emergency measures to allow continued access to essential medicines through the PBS will be extended to 30 June 2020.

These temporary “continued dispensing” arrangements allow people to obtain their usual medicines at PBS prices, even if they cannot get a new prescription from their doctor.

Under strict conditions, pharmacists will be able to give patients up to one month’s supply of their usual medicine without a script, at the usual PBS consumer co-payment.

The patient must previously have been prescribed the medicine and the pharmacist must be satisfied it is urgently needed.

These measures were originally put in place in January in response to the widespread bushfires and were due to end on 31 March 2020, however will be extended following consultation with doctors and the community pharmacy sector.

Home Delivery of Medicines

A new Home Medicines Service has been established to provide home delivery of PBS and Repatriation Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines, for vulnerable people and people in isolation.

This will complement the Government’s investments in telehealth, which allow people to see their doctor remotely, and if necessary obtain a script remotely. Vulnerable people will also be able to have their scripts filled remotely and delivered to their home.

The Government is fast tracking the roll out of electronic prescribing and dispensing through medical and dispensing software to make this even easier.

Substitution

The Australian Government is implementing changes to allow community pharmacists to substitute dose strengths or forms of medicines without prior approval from the prescribing doctor, if a medicine is unavailable at the time of dispensing.

These changes will relieve pressure on busy doctors and allow patients to receive their medicines from their pharmacist without delay.

The changes will allow, for example, a pharmacist to dispense different strengths of a product (such as two 20mg tablets in place of a 40mg tablet), or a different dose form of the same medicine (such as a capsule instead of a tablet).

The changes will be implemented through the Scheduling Policy Framework and Poisons Standard, with implementation by States and Territories and the Government through the TGA. The Australian Government continues to consult on the implementation and the potential expansion of these substitution measures.

Measures to prevent stockpiling

New measures were also introduced on 19 March to prevent medicines stockpiling.

Pharmacists are required to limit dispensing and sales of certain prescription and over-the-counter medicines to a one-month supply for prescription medicines, and to a maximum of one unit per purchase of certain over-the-counter non-prescription medicines

Pharmaceutical wholesalers participating in the Community Service Obligation arrangements are also required to manage the supply of medicines to community pharmacies where there are significant stock shortages, to ensure equitable distribution of medicines to all Australians.

More information is available on the Department of Health Website:

https://www.health.gov.au/resources/publications/covid-19-national-health-plan-home-medicines-services-information-for-consumers

https://www.tga.gov.au/media-release/covid-19-limits-dispensing-and-sales-pharmacies

Australian Government Partnership with Private Health Sector Secures 30,000 Hospital Beds and 105,000 Nurses and Staff,to Help Fight Covid-19 Pandemic

The Australian Government has partnered with the private hospital sector to ensure the full resources of our world class health system, are ready and focussed on treating patients as required, through the coronavirus pandemic.

Our Government has guaranteed the viability and capacity of the private hospital sector, in an agreement that will ensure over 30,000 hospital beds, and the sector’s 105,000 skilled workforce, is available alongside the public hospital sector.

This will strengthen our Australian COVID-19 response, and preserve the sector’s capacity to resume hospital services after the epidemic.

The Commonwealth will offer agreements to all 657 private and not-for-profit hospitals to ensure their viability, in return for maintenance and capacity during the CoVID-19 response.

State and territory governments will also complete private hospital COVID-19 partnership agreements in the coming days.

In an unprecedented move, private hospitals, including both overnight and day hospitals, will integrate with state and territory health systems in the COVID-19 response.

These facilities will be required to make infrastructure, essential equipment (including ventilators), supplies (including PPE), workforce and additional resources fully available to the state and territory hospital system or the Australian Government.

They will also continue to support the needs of long-stay public hospital National Disability Insurance Scheme participants, and aged care patients and general needs patients.

In conjunction with Commonwealth, State and Territory Health Ministers, private hospitals will support the COVID-19 response through services including but not limited to:

  • Hospital services for public patients – both positive and negative for COVID 19.
  • ategory 1 elective surgery.
  • Utilisation of wards and theatres to expand ICU capacity.
  • Accommodation for quarantine and isolation cases where necessary, and safety procedures and training are in place, including:
    • Cruise and flight covid-19 passengers.
    • Quarantine of vulnerable members of the community.
    • Isolation of infected vulnerable COVID-19 patients.

This is a landmark decision. Our Government is underwriting the future of the private hospital sector to:

  • Ensure health network capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Provide workforce retention that includes medical, nursing, clinical and ancillary staff to preserve the private hospital sector.
  • Allow activities such as non-urgent elective surgery to resume and accelerate at the appropriate time, once the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.

Our government recognises the fundamental and heroic role of our medical and nursing staff and this agreement further strengthens our health system. It gives us the capacity to respond to COVID-19 now, and the ability to preserve our hospital network for our nation’s health needs once we emerge from the crisis.

I personally want to thank our medical, nursing and allied health and support staff for their skill, dedication and compassion.

Health professionals will be provided appropriate training and equipment to ensure patient care is safe, and the health and safety of the workforce is maintained.

The arrangements will be reviewed throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure ongoing appropriateness.

Ultimately our fundamental priority is the health and well-being of all Australians.

NEW POWERS FOR PHARMACISTS DISPENSING MEDICINE

NSW pharmacists now have extra powers enabling them to dispense medicines without a prescription and can now stay open 24/7, as the State fights COVID-19.

Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard said a special authority has been granted to community pharmacists to assist people who can’t access their GP.

“This new authority comes at a crucial time for NSW, when we are looking at keeping our entire medical ecosystem free of red tape,” Mr Hazzard said.

“It gives our trusted community pharmacists the ability to dispense when people are not able to contact their GP to arrange a prescription at a time when we want everyone to stay home as much as possible.”

Pharmacies are also now able to operate 24 hours a day.  The NSW Government is also addressing the over-supply of prescription and over-the-counter medicines and recently introduced new limits to ensure equitable access.

For example, salbutamol (such as Ventolin brand) inhalers must now only be supplied (when over-the-counter by the pharmacist) as a single pack for a medically diagnosed lung condition.

“The NSW Government recognises the role of community pharmacists as frontline health workers supporting the community,” Mr Hazzard said.

“I want to remind the community to not panic buy, not abuse staff, and be respectful of people who hold a very special place on the frontline of our fight to keep the community safe and well.”

Families can also take advantage of an initiative announced earlier this year, enabling pharmacists to administer flu vaccines to anyone over 10 years.

Advice to pharmacists is available at:
https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/diseases/Pages/covid-19-pharmacy.aspx

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SUPPORT DURING COVID-19 CRISIS

Police and domestic violence frontline services remain at the ready to support victims and their families as the state continues to respond to the coronavirus threat.

Attorney General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Mark Speakman said survivors could be confident that support services and the NSW Police Force are prepared and ready to respond if they need help.

“As citizens cooperate with social distancing directions, self-isolation and quarantine, there is an associated risk that domestic and family violence will increase,” Mr Speakman said.

“Victims have a right to live a life free from violence every single day. When it’s safe to do so, I urge them to contact our hard working frontline services for support.”

Minister for Police David Elliott said police had ramped up their efforts to combat violence in the home, including more proactive operations to enforce protection orders.

“I’m putting perpetrators on notice. It’s only a matter of time before police come knocking on your door if you continue to abuse those you claim to love,” Minister Elliott said.

“Police are not only on the beat ensuring the public complies with public health orders, they’re also conducting thousands of Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) compliance checks to keep victims safe.”

NSW Police Force Domestic Violence Corporate Spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Mark Jones, said police will continue monitoring rates of domestic violence across the state.

“Specially trained police will continue targeting high-risk and repeat offenders to ensure that all orders are strictly followed and complied with and offenders are arrested if violence is detected,” Assistant Commissioner Jones said.

“Police are also able to vary existing interim or final ADVOs without needing to first go to court, if we know that violence is escalating, so that victims are immediately protected.

“NSW Police are working together with government agencies, including NSW Health, to ensure there is no increased health risk to the community.

“As always, if you witness domestic or family violence, call the police – the information you provide might just save someone’s life,” Assistant Commissioner Jones said.

The NSW Government continues to adapt as the COVID-19 emergency evolves, which includes various justice, housing and policing responses to combat domestic violence.

In the Local Court, the Chief Magistrate has made the following changes:

  • Increased use of audio visual link technology;
  • Restricting physical attendance at court, where legally represented;
  • Streamlining bail processes, localised to certain metro and regional local courts;
  • Defended hearings where the accused is in custody, adjourned for eight weeks; and
  • Police providing court dates of three months from issuing Field Court Attendance Notices.

The Government also last week passed amendments in Parliament to enable Provisional ADVOs to remain in place for up to six months, if the court cannot consider them earlier. This coincides with reforms that extend the default duration of ADVOs made by a court from one year to two years.

Domestic violence survivors and their families make up a significant proportion of those who are, or at risk of, homelessness. The State’s housing response includes the following additional government support:

  • $14.3 million investment to increase the supply and flexibility of temporary accommodation across NSW,  including accommodation suitable for self-isolation;
  • $20 million commitment to accelerate pathways for existing clients and priority social housing applicants to secure stable housing in the private rental market – including more than 350 Rent Choice Start Safely packages dedicated to women and children escaping domestic and family violence; and
  • Financial support covering the costs of additional staffing for homelessness providers, such as casual workers or overtime.

“Further changes may be necessary as the COVID-19 crisis continues, but if you, or someone you know, is experiencing domestic or family violence, multiple services are available to provide immediate support,” Mr Speakman said.

Available services include:

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) is a confidential information, counselling and support service;
  • NSW Domestic Violence Line (1800 65 64 63) is a statewide telephone crisis counselling and referral service for women;
  • Men’s Referral Service (1300 766 491) provide telephone counselling, information and referrals for men;
  • Link2Home (1800 152 152) can help refer women experiencing domestic violence to crisis accommodation; and
  • Lifeline (13 11 14) is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.

If you are in danger or in an emergency, always contact Triple Zero (000).  

$130 BILLION JOBKEEPER PAYMENT TO KEEP AUSTRALIANS IN A JOB

The Morrison Government will provide a historic wage subsidy to around 6 million workers who will receive a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight through their employer, before tax.

The $130 billion JobKeeper payment will help keep Australians in jobs as tackle the significant economic impact from the coronavirus.

The payment will be open to eligible businesses that receive a significant financial hit caused by the coronavirus.

The payment will provide the equivalent of around 70 per cent of the national median wage.

For workers in the accommodation, hospitality and retail sectors it will equate to a full median replacement wage.

The payment will ensure eligible employers and employees stay connected while some businesses move into hibernation.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the JobKeeper payment would bring the Government’s total economic support for the economy to $320 billion or 16.4 per cent of GDP.

“We will give millions of eligible businesses and their workers a lifeline to not only get through this crisis, but bounce back together on the other side,” the Prime Minister said.

“This is about keeping the connection between the employer and the employee and keeping people in their jobs even though the business they work for may go into hibernation and close down for six months.

“When the economy comes back, these businesses will be able to start again and their workforce will be ready to go because they will remain attached to the business through our JobKeeper payment.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the country was about to go through one of the toughest times in its history.

“Businesses will close and people will lose their jobs. That is why we have doubled the welfare safety net,” the Treasurer said.

“However, today we are going even further. Australians know that their government has their back.

“That is why we are delivering an historic $130 billion JobKeeper payment to support businesses and to help Australians in a job.

“This will keep Australian workers connected with their employer and provide hope and more certainty during these difficult and challenging times.”

JobKeeper Payment

The JobKeeper Payment is a subsidy to businesses, which will keep more Australians in jobs through the course of the coronavirus outbreak.

The payment will be paid to employers, for up to six months, for each eligible employee that was on their books on 1 March 2020 and is retained or continues to be engaged by that employer.

Where a business has stood down employees since 1 March, the payment will help them maintain connection with their employees.

Employers will receive a payment of $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee. Every eligible employee must receive at least $1,500 per fortnight from this business, before tax.

The program will commence today, 30 March 2020, with the first payments to be received by eligible businesses in the first week of May as monthly arrears from the Australian Taxation Office. Eligible businesses can begin distributing the JobKeeper payment immediately and will be reimbursed from the first week of May.

The Government will provide updates on further business cashflow support in coming days.

Eligible employers will be those with annual turnover of less than $1 billion who self-assess that have a reduction in revenue of 30 per cent or more, since 1 March 2020 over a minimum one-month period.

Employers with an annual turnover of $1 billion or more would be required to demonstrate a reduction in revenue of 50 per cent or more to be eligible. Businesses subject to the Major Bank Levy will not be eligible.

Eligible employers include businesses structured through companies, partnerships, trusts and sole traders. Not for profit entities, including charities, will also be eligible.

Full time and part time employees, including stood down employees, would be eligible to receive the JobKeeper Payment. Where a casual employee has been with their employer for at least the previous 12 months they will also be eligible for the Payment. An employee will only be eligible to receive this payment from one employer.

Eligible employees include Australian residents, New Zealand citizens in Australia who hold a subclass 444 special category visa, and migrants who are eligible for JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance (Other).

Self-employed individuals are also eligible to receive the JobKeeper Payment.

Eligible businesses can apply for the payment online and are able to register their interest via ato.gov.au

Income support partner pay income test

Over the next six months the Government is temporarily expanding access to income support payments and establishing a Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight.

JobSeeker Payment is subject to a partner income test, and today the Government is temporarily relaxing the partner income test to ensure that an eligible person can receive the JobSeeker Payment, and associated Coronavirus Supplement, providing their partner earns less than $3,068 per fortnight, around $79,762 per annum.

The personal income test for individuals on JobSeeker Payment will still apply.

Every arm of government and industry is working to keep Australians in jobs and businesses in business, and to build a bridge to recovery on the other side.

The Government will continue to do what it takes to ensure that Australia bounces back stronger.

FLYPELICAN SUPPORT WELCOMED

Federal Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon has cautiously welcomed the Federal Government’s support package for regional airlines.

Ms Claydon said she had written to the Deputy Prime Minister, and had met with him personally, to stress the urgent need to deliver support into the Hunter-based regional airline FlyPelican.

“Regretfully, the coronavirus crisis has seen passenger numbers and bookings  across the aviation industry plummet by as much 90 per cent, leaving formerly vibrant and profitable businesses including FlyPelican hanging by a thread,” Ms Claydon said.

“While we still need to see the details of what this package will mean for individual operators, it seems to be a very positive development.”

Ms Claydon reiterated the importance of local airlines to regional economies.

“Airlines aren’t like other businesses. They play a key role in connecting families, friends and communities, while also promoting trade and supporting essential services. Importantly, they help drive economic growth across our vast nation,” Ms Claydon said.

“I have every confidence that, with the right support, FlyPelican will be in a strong position to resume services quickly and help drive the regional economic recovery that will be so desperately needed when the COVID-19 crisis has passed.”

Ms Claydon said while the support package for companies was welcome, workers still need urgent assistance.

“There was nothing in the regional airline package to ensure that workers are retained.

“The Government must deliver wage subsidies to ensure workers remain connected to their employer and airlines can ramp up their operations quickly when the crisis recedes.”

Officer allegedly assaulted after pair ignore beach closures – Maroubra

A man has been charged after allegedly headbutting and spitting on a police officer who was assisting to enforce a beach closure in Sydney’s east yesterday.

About 11.20am yesterday (Monday 30 March 2020), a man and a woman attended Maroubra Beach, which had been closed by Randwick City Council.

Lifeguards notified the pair that the beach was closed and reminded them of the government’s social distancing guidelines.

It is alleged the man and woman then verbally abused the lifeguards, who contacted police.

A short time later, officers attached to Eastern Beaches Police Area Command stopped a 29-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman on Mons Avenue, Maroubra.

As police attempted to arrest the man, he allegedly headbutted and spat on a female sergeant, causing a laceration to her lip and swelling to her head.

Additional police attended and following a short struggle, the pair were arrested and taken to Maroubra Police Station.

The man was charged with assault police occasioning actual bodily harm, resist arrest, offensive behaviour and fail to comply with terms of notice erected by council.

He faced Central Local Court yesterday where he was refused bail to re-appear at the same court today (Tuesday 31 March 2020).

The woman was issued with a Criminal Infringement Notice for offensive behaviour and fail to comply with terms of notice erected by council.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services, David Elliott, said police are in the frontline in the fight against COVID-19 and deserve respect.

“I’ve had a gutful of people abusing, harassing and assaulting our hardworking police officers who put their own safety on the line every day to protect the very people who attack them,” Minister Elliott said.

“If you choose to ignore a direction from police – one that is in place to save lives – then you can expect to be issued with a hefty fine or jail time.”

NSW Police Force Commissioner Mick Fuller said this type of behaviour won’t deter police, who will continue to do their best to keep the community safe.

“Our officers are committed to community safety and will continue to enforce all ministerial directions aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Commissioner Fuller said.

“If you choose not to comply with directions put in place to protect the community against this virus, you can expect to face the full force of the law.”

NSW Police officers have the additional power to issue Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs) to anyone found to be in contravention of a ministerial direction under the Public Health Act.

PINs carry on-the-spot fines of $1000 for individuals and $5000 for businesses.