Let kindness be what defines us, long after this virus has been beaten
9 April 2020 - Minister Richard Colbeck
For every ugly moment in this season of uncertainty – the panic buying, finger pointing and supermarket spats – there has been just as many bright spots.
Neighbours have leaned across the fence and reacquainted.
Families have phoned loved ones. Letters have been written and food has been dropped at front doors.
There has been a reconnection.
In this year of unprecedented change, the most favourable of human qualities shines bright.
It remains something to cling to as Easter nears.
We must look out for everybody.
But the need to ensure the care of the elderly has never been more important.
For those with healthy immune systems, COVID-19 can pass with barely a sniffle.
But it can be deadly for senior Australians.
The tireless efforts of our health care workers and researchers will eventually result in us getting ahead of the curve – but it will be no easy battle.
To date, more than 40 Australians have died from the virus.
The majority of the victims have been aged over 70.
Evidence, both in Australia and overseas, tells us that the risk of coronavirus causing serious illness and death increases with age.
With no vaccine, preventing exposure is the single most important step we can take to protect senior Australians who are at greatest risk.
Restrictions are now in place to protect residents of aged care homes.
Visits to all public hospitals and aged care homes in Tasmania have been banned.
Strict guidelines remain in place for facilities in all other states.
Some have closed their doors in a bid offer the best protection.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s strong advice to seniors was simple: Those aged over 70, over 65 with a chronic medical condition, indigenous Australians over 50 or anybody with a compromised immune system should stay home.
It’s not a recommendation handed down lightly but it reflects the seriousness of the health emergency we’re facing.
It’s why the Federal Government has set about boosting services for senior Australians.
Meals on Wheel and similar services will be reinforced and prioritised as senior residents across Australia are urged to heed restrictions and stay home.
A $59.3 million injection will ensure more prepared meals, food staples and essential daily items are delivered to those who need them most.
Supermarkets have prioritised online delivery services for those who need them most.
Telehealth services have been bolstered so the elderly can consult with a GP without leaving home.
Pharmacies now have the capacity to deliver medicines direct to homes.
Announced funding measures of $444.6 million is expected to strengthen the aged care industry, with specific mechanisms to reinforce the workforce.
It comes atop of $2.4 billion for health and aged care already committed.
This global pandemic remains the greatest challenge we have faced as a nation since World War II.
Back then the requirements forced on society were far greater.
So it puts the current recommendations in perspective.
But an order to stay at home presents its own challenges.
Loneliness, already a major issue for many senior Australians, is compounded.
Not being able to spend time with grandchildren can be heart-breaking when a visit from a little one can prove the highlight of a week.
Take a look at the images from Manly Beach this week and it’s clear the concept of social distancing remains a difficult one for healthy adults to come to terms with.
But as a community, we all have a role to play to help each other.
That’s why I’m asking everyone to look out for the elderly and vulnerable.
The Government is hopeful a $10 million injection into the Community Visitors Scheme will provide another mechanism for support of older Australians struggling with loneliness.
A national advertising campaign is also now focused specifically on reinforcing connection with the elderly.
But it will be the small gestures from each of us every day – acts of kindness that will make the greatest difference.
So, make that extra meal. Do some shopping for somebody else, lean over that fence or just make a call.
Smart phones and tablets can keep us connected better than ever and could be invaluable to your parents or grandparents.
Teach them to use communication software like Facetime, Skype and Zoom.
Staying at home doesn’t have to mean living in isolation.
In a society that can so often be quick to anger – where judgement is piled high on social media and critics jostle for position – there has never been a greater need to lean into the innate qualities that have defined us from the very start.
Like a club banner raised to the cheers of a packed stadium, this message of kindness should be one that defines us, long after the siren sounds and this dogged virus has been beaten.
Senator Richard Colbeck is the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, and the Minister for Youth and Sport