The creation of a civil society COVID Rapid Response Group is needed according to the peak body for community services.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) is calling for the creation of the group which would include representatives from unions, business peaks and public health experts.
The group would work closely with the government to address the impacts of the rampant spread of the Omicron and Delta COVID variants.
After consulting with community sector leaders, ACOSS has written to the Prime Minister and National Cabinet proposing urgent steps the government must take to ensure people who are most at risk from the impacts of COVID-19 are protected and the essential services that support them have the resources they need.
The steps include providing free universal and reliable access to Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT), equitable and reliable supply in the community of personal protective equipment (PPE) and increased investment in community-led health initiatives to deal with the surge in infections and its impact on people experiencing poverty and disadvantage.
The group also wants mutual obligations suspended immediately to safeguard people on JobSeeker and other payments, as well as job service providers until the end of February 2022 and extend pandemic leave.
ACOSS chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie said the government needs to reassess and respond with purposeful, active and decisive leadership.
She said it’s vital all levels of government learn from the lessons of the first two years of the pandemic.
“Over the holiday period, people have been trying to protect themselves despite the constant change in circumstances and persistent uncertainty from the government.
“Now they are struggling to access COVID-19 tests, vaccinations, medical supplies and essential goods and services.
“The pandemic continues to hit people on low incomes, people from diverse backgrounds and with pre-existing vulnerabilities the hardest. “Additionally, children and young people have particular vulnerabilities that require more support at this time.
“It’s time for government to step into the breach and act swiftly.”