Covid-19 Update Issue 525: hundreds of Seniors Dying, Students in their thousands contracting coronavirus during first week back at school, businesses closing, events being postponed, Support Packages for business outlined, elective Surgeries to return, Free RSA Courses offered to meet staff shortfall while TAFE is in 'disarray'
Of the 52 deaths reported last Sunday; three people were in their 60s, 11 people were in their 70s, 26 people were in their 80s, 11 people were in their 90s, and one person was aged more than 100 years old. Of the 27 people who died on Monday; five were in their 60s, six were in their 70s, 10 were in their 80s and six were in their 90s.
Of the 31 people who died on Friday one person was in their 60s, seven people were in their 70s, 12 people were in their 80s, 10 people were in their 90s, and one person was aged 100.
NSW Government statistics from PCR and RAT tests, by age group, show Confirmed COVID-19 cases over last 7 days were:
Aged 0-9: 6,506
Aged 10-19: 6,106
Aged 20-29: 7,587
Aged 30-39: 8,150
Aged 40-49: 6,527
Aged 50-59: 4,652
Aged 60-69: 3,355
Aged 70-79: 1,851
Aged 80-89: 836
Aged 90+: 315
The United Wesley Gardens Belrose had 142 cases as of February 1st, 2022. On January 26th The Sydney Morning Herald reported Wesley Gardens had 92 residents and 78 staff positive cases. ( SMH report ''Outbreaks exceed 170 cases in four Sydney aged care homes'')
On Monday January 31st, Federal Health Minister the Hon. Greg Hunt addressed the growing number of deaths in aged care. There have been 473 Covid-related aged-care deaths recorded in January alone.
“The latest advice that I have is that approximately 60% of those that have agonisingly passed have been in palliative care,” Mr. Hunt said, adding: “The definition is that they have passed with Covid, and they are absolutely rightly counted as a national loss. But approximately 60% of those that have passed were in palliative care.”
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation federal secretary, Annie Butler, said the comments were “astonishing”.
“The comments are just outrageous because elderly people can be in palliative care for a week, for two weeks, or even years, and the aim is to make sure the person has the best life they can have in that time. Letting Covid rip through homes and these people become infected is hardly delivering people the best quality of life that they can have.” Ms Butler said
Australia has around 2000 Covid deaths so far this year, and as of Friday, February 4th, there have been 533 deaths in residential aged care.
There were 685 residential aged care deaths in 2020 and 282 in 2021.
As at 5:00pm February 4th 2022 there are 11,980 COVID-19 positive residents (5,439) and staff (6,541) in 1,176 active outbreaks in residential aged care facilities across Australia. Of the residents, 2,847 are in NSW. Of the staff, 3,720 are in NSW.
One of the aged care royal commissioners, Lynelle Briggs, this week criticised the lack of preparation.
“We shouldn’t be seeing the disproportionate impact on this group when we’ve known for two years they were particularly vulnerable to the disease,” Ms Briggs told the ABC.
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association heading to canberra
On Monday February 7th the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association released the following statement:
Aged care nurses call out Federal Government on empty promises
Monday February 7, 2022
Burnt out and dejected, a group of registered nurses, enrolled nurses and assistants in nursing from residential aged care sites across NSW are travelling to Canberra, desperate to have their voices heard when federal parliament resumes tomorrow.
Armed with first-hand accounts of chronic workforce shortages, poor access to booster vaccines, and ongoing battles over supplies of personal protective equipment and rapid antigen tests, the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) members will highlight stark realities of working in aged care under the Morrison government.
Aged care staff are exhausted and burnt out, with many working for days around the clock. Resignations due to fatigue and feeling undervalued continue to devastate the sector.
''We need an ongoing Covid-19 payment to be paid on each shift to recognise and incentivise aged care workers.'' The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Australian Aged Care Collaboration, Australian Council of Trade Unions, United Workers Union, Health Services Union and Australian Workers Union said in a joint statement.
Photo: NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA)
NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said the situation was beyond shocking and the aged care nurses she travelled with would deliver home truths to every parliamentarian they encountered.
“Last Friday while the Prime Minister was shampooing an apprentice’s hair for the cameras, more aged care residents tragically lost their lives because of the horrible crisis the sector is in,” said Ms Candish.
“This government is accountable for the deaths of 1,500* aged care residents since the pandemic began. Sadly, 533 of these COVID-19 related deaths have occurred this year alone.
“Our aged care members across NSW are at breaking point. There’s simply still not enough staff to provide basic care.
“We’ve had reports of an aged care nurse working 16 shifts in a row. The expectation that a nurse can work 16 back-to-back shifts is disgraceful and unsafe.
“Aged care nurses cannot continue to carry the burden that’s being placed on them. Many have described the physical and mental exhaustion they’re battling each shift, not to mention the multiple shifts they’re working because of the chronic understaffing.
“Members tell us the government’s quick-fix privately sourced workforce has been remarkably absent, with reports of limited availability, the wrong qualifications, or not even showing up.
“It’s been more empty promises, more wasted money and a proper waste of time by this government, leaving aged care workers fatigued and fed up.
“The Prime Minister would have us all believe his government is doing everything it can to ‘fix’ aged care but is this really the best they can do?” Ms Candish questioned.
''The Covid pandemic is magnifying the structural deficiencies in the aged care system identified by the Royal Commission. We need action from the federal government to make sure that aged care workers and services are resourced and enabled better care for and protect older Australians. This means having a plan for more staff, with better pay and improved skills and qualifications. Alongside adequate funding for services to maintain infection protection measures to keep people safe.
Aged care staff are working hard to provide care in very challenging circumstances and with limited resources. They are on the frontline of the fight against Covid, caring for the most vulnerable in our society. A largely female dominated workforce, they must be appropriately recognised and supported to win this fight.'' The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Australian Aged Care Collaboration, Australian Council of Trade Unions, United Workers Union, Health Services Union and Australian Workers Union have stated
*nationally, as at 4 Feb 2022 - 'COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian residential aged care facilities'
Back to school - Infections in thousands
Children across our area went back to school on Tuesday this week, February 1st, 2022. On Wednesday February 2nd, Day 2, parents were receiving alerts on their phones of ‘numerous positive cases’ in grades 2, 3, 4, through to high school grades.
The data that has been released shows 617 staff from 438 state schools have tested positive to COVID in the first week of school, with 2,417 students returning a positive rapid antigen test. The government's statistics state there have been 12,612 confirmed cases or just over 10 thousand outside the statistics for infection in state schools and in these 0-9 and 10-19 years age groups have acquired the disease in the last 7 days.
The State Government's data states that more than 80 per cent of children in the 12- to 15-year-old age group have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 78 per cent are double-dosed. In the 5- to 11-year-old age group, more than 39 per cent of children have had their first dose.
On Tuesday, February 1st, Premier Dominic Perottet said this was an exciting day for students, and parents and carers can be assured that a wealth of COVID safe measures are in place to ensure minimal disruption to the 2022 school year.
“The best place for students to learn is at school and getting our young people back to face to face learning is an important part of the plan to live with the virus,” Mr Perrottet said.
“We have worked hard to ensure that every school is a safe environment for students, teachers and school staff. We have distributed 8.6 million rapid antigen test (RAT) kits to all schools to ensure that students and staff are able to test for the virus twice a week for the first two weeks of term.
“RAT kits have also been distributed to all early childhood education centres so that educators are able to undertake surveillance testing for COVID-19 twice a week.
Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell said she was thrilled to see students walk through school gates and welcomed back to the classroom by their teachers. “Teachers and students put in an enormous effort last year while they were learning from home, however we know that being at school has so many social and developmental benefits for children, beyond what they learn in the classroom,” Ms Mitchell said.
“The Department of Education had worked closely with NSW Health to deliver supplies to all schools ahead of students’ return today to make schools as safe as possible.
“Vaccinations remain one of our strongest defences against COVID-19 in our schools and with all staff having received at least two doses of the vaccination, it’s encouraging to see that our students are also increasingly getting vaccinated.”
More than 80 per cent of children in the 12- to 15-year-old age group have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 78 per cent are double-dosed. In the 5- to 11-year-old age group, more than 39 per cent of children have had their first dose. Other COVID safe measures including physical distancing, ventilation, mask wearing and cohorting will continue to work to limit the spread of the virus, while school year groups will be separated as much as possible with staggered start, break and finishing times and designated playground areas, tuckshop lines, toilets and classrooms.
“With all these measures in place, we’re confident that students will be able to return to the activities they love while staying COVID safe,” Ms Mitchell said.
On Friday February 4th the New South Wales Education Minister said schools have been able to manage COVID-related staff vacancies at a local level without the need, as announced in January, for retired teachers and those in their final year of university to cover furloughed teaching staff.
The Public Health (COVID-19 Self-Isolation) Order (No 4) Amendment (No 4) Order 2022 commenced on January 12th 2022. It amended the Public Health (COVID-19 Self-Isolation) Order (No 4) 2021 to give effect to changes by the State Government, including that a person diagnosed with COVID-19 through the use of a rapid antigen test is a "diagnosed person" and required to self-isolate under this Order in the same way as if the person were diagnosed by undergoing PCR testing, and that a close contact or a household contact of a person diagnosed with COVID-19 is not required to self-isolate if the close contact or household contact has, because the contact was diagnosed with COVID-19, completed a period of self-isolation no more than 28 days ago.
Positive cases must self-isolate until they are medically cleared, which means when:
- the diagnosed person has self-isolated for 7 days from the day the person undertook the test that resulted in the person becoming a diagnosed person, or
- the person is notified, by or on behalf of NSW Health or by a medical practitioner, that the person may stop self-isolating.
A positive case is required to notify their employers, education providers and people that they reside with that they have tested positive. A person who has tested positive to COVID-19 as a result of a rapid antigen test must also notify Service NSW.
All close contacts who have been notified by an authorised contact tracer (including from the Department of Education) are required to self-isolate for a maximum period of 7 days. A household contact is defined as 'a person who resides with the positive case and who has been notified by the positive case that the case has COVID'. Household contacts are required to self-isolate for 7 days since they last had contact with the positive case.
Those who have tested positive may leave self-isolation when the 7 days have elapsed as long as they don't have a sore throat, runny nose, cough or shortness of breath for the 24 hours prior to the release date.
Locally businesses are still closing due to being unable to source staff or from a lack of business and certainty or postponing events until later in the year. Even larger businesses are impacted. On Thursday February 3rd, the Narrabeen RSL issued a statement that they would be closing from today, Sunday February 6th.
NARRABEEN RSL ANNOUNCEMENT: February 3rd, 2022
The Board of Directors at Narrabeen RSL have made the difficult decision to temporarily close The Razza from Sunday February 6th.
Whilst we hope this isn’t farewell, we face an uncertain future; an ongoing pandemic, restrictions on singing and dancing, minimal government support as well as difficult landlord and rent negotiations.
Narrabeen RSL has stood in this valley supporting and serving its community for over 65 years. It has been a privilege and an honour to be part of something that spans generations and captures the essence of both the past and future of Narrabeen.
We invite you ALL, members and guests that have helped make this Club what it is to come along on Sunday and raise your glass to the friendliest little club on the peninsula. To all the singing, dancing, good times and bad that The Razza has always managed to be there for.... just up the road or down the hill.
WE WILL BE OPEN THURSDAY TILL SUNDAY FEBRUARY 6TH 3-7PM SUNK HOURS SATURDAY 5TH & SUNDAY 6TH 2-7PM
The President, BOD, Management and staff thanks you for your ongoing support throughout this difficult time.
Locals have expressed concerns that the club may not reopen. A popular band is scheduled to play at the Narrabeen RSL in early March.
On Friday February 4th Pittwater Online received advice that Night at the Barracks (Manly) has been postponed - although in this instance there is only a limited amount of events scheduled to be run, hundreds of other scheduled events have either been postponed to later in the year or cancelled altogether. There were 408 changes listed on the Ticketmaster site as we went to press.
Those postponed logically take the date where another event or act could have been performing to a paying audience, adding more stress to the Performing Arts Industry and Artists. That email Notice from the Night at the Barracks (Manly) and Ticketmaster team;
‘Due to the extension of the NSW Public Health Order concerning major events and to ensure a wonderful experience, the Night at the Barracks team have today made the difficult decision to postpone the concert series until September/October 2022.
The Night at the Barracks team have advised:
Our primary concern is the health and safety of our audiences, artists, sponsors and team members. With ongoing unpredictability due to Covid-19, we feel it is the safest and most proactive decision to move to new dates in Spring with an absolute commitment of providing our Manly and the broader community this world-class event that all of Sydney can be proud of.
With our incredible North Head Barracks location, ‘the show will go on’ and we will revert with information regarding new performance dates and programming in the coming days.
In the meantime, we’d like to thank you for your patience, understanding and support. We can’t wait to host you in Spring for a concert series like no other under the night sky at North Head, Manly whilst experiencing some of Australia’s most extraordinary talent.
Photo: Narrabeen RSL
Return of elective surgery - NSW Government: Covid business support package and Family Support packages
The State Government has also announced this week that from Monday, February 7th non-urgent elective surgery requiring an overnight stay will return to 75 per cent capacity in private hospitals, and up to 75 per cent of pre pandemic activity levels at public hospitals in regional and rural NSW where they are able to do so.
The AMA (NSW) welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement but said it does not go far enough. AMA (NSW) President, Dr Danielle McMullen said while the increase to 75% would be a welcome respite for those waiting for much needed surgery, the State needs a plan for a full return.
“The shutdown of elective surgery has had a significant impact on patients requiring nonurgent but necessary healthcare. We are pleased patients will have access to this care once again; however, we urge the State to give patients certainty that elective surgeries will not be cancelled again as we learn to live with COVID,” Dr McMullen said.
“We’ve experienced three elective surgery shutdowns since the pandemic began. The State cannot continue to use elective surgery as a lever to fix workforce resourcing problems and poor planning.
“We are not through the pandemic yet, and it’s anticipated there could be future waves of infection in winter. We need better planning and better solutions, for our patients’ sake. Suspending elective surgery should only be a last resort and a local decision based on capacity.
The temporary suspension of non-urgent elective surgery requiring an overnight stay in both public and private hospitals from 10 January was necessary to ensure there was sufficient staffing and hospital bed capacity in NSW to meet the extra demands caused by the Omicron wave of COVID-19.
All emergency surgery and urgent elective surgery in NSW continues to be performed during this challenging period. The majority of non-urgent elective day surgery has also been continuing in public and private hospitals.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said with COVID-19 hospitalisations stabilising, non-urgent elective surgery requiring an overnight stay can now begin to resume in a safe and staged manner from Monday, 7 February.
“I am pleased to announce that from next week non-urgent elective surgery will resume at private hospitals and in some of our public hospitals that are in a position to do so in regional and rural NSW,” Mr Perrottet said.
“The reintroduction of non-urgent elective surgery will be done in a phased manner to balance the ongoing potential need for extra capacity in our hospitals and the need for people in NSW to access their elective surgeries as quickly as possible.
The Government also released last week its Covid business support package.
A statement issued on January 31st announced 'Businesses, workers, and the performing arts across NSW are all set to benefit from a major financial support package of more than $1 billion to help those that have been hardest hit by the Omicron wave.'
The package includes financial support for small business to offset the cost of rapid antigen tests (RATs) to help keep their workers safe and a new Small Business Support Program to help businesses survive the immediate impacts of the Omicron wave and keep workers employed.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said though case numbers were declining, the NSW Government was determined to support those businesses that had been most affected during this wave of the pandemic.
“As part of the package, we are introducing the Small Business Support Program to help support businesses that experienced the worst effects of the Omicron wave,” Mr Perrottet said.
“We are also providing support to business to help reimburse the cost of rapid antigen tests for their workers, extending the Commercial Landlord Hardship Grant and delivering additional funding for the performing arts sector.
“This targeted package provides support for businesses who experienced cashflow issues and the immediate economic impacts of the Omicron outbreak.
“NSW is tracking better than expected and confidence is returning. And as we did with earlier recoveries, we will come through this recent challenge stronger than ever.
“We’ve got the backs of businesses, as we have throughout this entire pandemic.” Mr Perrottet said.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole said the support package would provide a state-wide response to the Omicron wave of the pandemic, targeting those businesses that needed it the most.
“Our regions have felt the impacts of Omicron, and it’s critical we give them a helping hand to recover and get local economies humming again,” Mr Toole said.
“This package shows that the NSW Government continues to have the back of residents and businesses in the bush with practical measures to ensure they keep their workers safe and businesses open.”
Treasurer Matt Kean said: “We know some businesses in NSW have faced challenges and it is vital we get them the support they need to stay afloat and keep their workers in jobs.
“As we continue to protect the health and safety of our community, we have to ensure our economy is resilient and our businesses are supported so they bounce back from this most recent phase of the pandemic.
“The Small Business Support Program helps those businesses with annual turnover of between $75,000 and $50 million with a decline in turnover of at least 40 per cent by providing a payment covering up to 20 per cent of their weekly payroll.
The Small Business Support Program will provide eligible businesses with a lump sum payment for the month of February 2022. Eligible employing businesses will receive 20 per cent of weekly payroll with a minimum payment of $750 per week and a maximum payment of $5,000 per week. Non-employing businesses will receive $500 per week.
In addition, the existing Small Business Fees, Charges and RAT Rebate will be increased from the current $2,000 limit to $3,000 and employing businesses will be able to offset 50 per cent of the cost of RATs. This will support worker availability by helping reduce costs to small businesses and enabling healthy staff who have been exposed to COVID-19, but test negative, to return to work.
An inability to find staff has seen some small businesses in our area closing, especially in the hospitality industry. Social media forums seen this week have listed job after job, with no takers.
On Sunday February 6th the NSW State Government announced about one million families can now enjoy $250 worth of vouchers, thanks to the NSW Government’s Parents NSW program going live Monday, February 7th.
Eligible families will receive five $50 vouchers which can be redeemed at Discover NSW and Stay NSW registered businesses.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said this program was a big win for households and would help ease the cost of living for busy parents.
“This is all about thanking parents for their homeschooling efforts last year, helping make ends meet and supporting local businesses. Parents have persevered and balanced a variety of challenges as a result of home learning, and we are grateful for their hard work and sacrifices,” Mr Perrottet said.
"This will also put downward pressure on the cost of living by helping families across the State get out and enjoy the best our State has to offer while leaving them with more money in their back pocket to spend on the everyday essentials."
In addition, the Stay NSW voucher program, providing every adult aged 18 and older with a $50 voucher to spend at registered accommodation providers, will be progressively rolled out from 21 February. Both programs will be implemented using the existing Dine & Discover NSW infrastructure.
“These vouchers are a double win – they encourage families to get out and enjoy the best of our State, while also providing much-needed income to businesses affected by the pandemic,” Mr Perrottet said.
Treasurer Matt Kean said the vouchers form part of the NSW Government’s $2.8 billion COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy announced in October and come on the back of the more the $1 billion COVID business support package recently announced.
Parents NSW vouchers can be combined up to the value of $250 and applied to your accommodation bill or discover experience. Customers can pool multiple Stay NSW vouchers with friends or family for the same booking at registered accommodation providers, big or small.
Bookings made through third-party providers such as online booking platforms and travel agents are not included in the program.
Participating businesses will be able to redeem vouchers seven days a week, including public holidays. Customers will be able to search for participating accommodation providers on the easy-to-use hotel finder.
5,000 fee-free Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) But TAFE unable to meet current demand for courses
The State Government has moved to provide at least one alternative to meet this shortfall through providing funding in the form of free RSA courses to help ease staff shortages.
A statement issued says the NSW Government will fund 5,000 fee-free Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) courses to support new workers to enter the hospitality industry and help ease the staffing pressure on licensed hospitality venues.
Treasurer Matt Kean said the free courses will be available from February 7th and will allow more people to get the qualifications they need to enter the workforce during this critical time.
“The hospitality sector makes up over 2 per cent of total gross value added to the NSW economy and supports more than 300,000 jobs, which is why we are committed to supporting this critical industry,” Mr Kean said.
“By providing these free RSA courses we are not just supporting the hospitality sector during the current downturn, but are supporting the future of people who pick up an extra qualification courtesy of NSW Government funding.” Mr. Kean said.
The RSA courses will be available through TAFE NSW and private providers who already offer government subsidised programs.
However, many of those who sought to enrol in other TAFE courses, as prompted to on January 28th, and given 3 days to do so, for the usual February start of classes have had these classes pushed back to a mid March start date due to a shortfall in staff and teachers, including those starting first year Apprenticeships, meaning they will have a later finish date as well.
The NSW Teachers Federation stated on February 1st 'as the NSW Government continues to cut TAFE teacher and support staff jobs, it is now stopping thousands of TAFE students enrolling in courses to start this month.'
'The Government’s decade of TAFE cuts has either deleted or made redundant the jobs of 6298 teachers and related employees since December 2012. In late 2021, another TAFE restructure deleted more student support and administrative positions, which are vital to enrol students for courses this year.' the NSW Teachers Federation's statement says
'Hundreds of teachers joined Federation’s state-wide union meetings to voice their anger and frustration at the dysfunctional enrolment process now inflicted on TAFE students and teachers.
The flawed process has been exacerbated by TAFE’s failure to plan appropriately for more than 200 transitioning courses, meaning delays to offers on the TAFE NSW website, which is how many students find course information and enrol.
Teachers in many sections have been contacting employers, working with student lists from training plans and pursuing other avenues to attempt to solve the problem.''
Members have voiced their frustration with comments such as:
“We have a situation where teachers will probably have to do the enrolments on top of everything else.”
“Students can no longer contact the campus direct, all calls redirect to a 131 number. Have heard in some regions there is a long wait on the 131 number.”
“A student rang 131 to enrol in a Cert IV. Customer service did not know who the HT or section was and put her through to a counsellor! I wonder how many students we have lost due to this confusion.”
“My potential students are being referred to other RTOs because our courses are not approved and online, so customer support officers and apprenticeship support officers are telling them that we don't offer this qual.”
The NSW Teachers Federation's statement may be read in full at: news.nswtf.org.au/blog/news/2022/02/tafe-members-angry-enrolment-debacle
The free refresher courses are available to new people wanting to work in the industry, as well as those with an existing RSA competency card or Responsible Conduct of Gambling (RCG) endorsements expiring between 1 February 2020 and 30 June 2022.
People can register to apply for 5,000 free RSA courses from February 7th 2022.
Those interested can find out more on the Liquor and Gaming NSW website