• A man in his 50s, receives a dialysis treatment at the Purple House in Alice Springs, 2015. (AAP Image/Dan Peled) (AAP)Source: AAP
Unpacking the recent advice from the Australian government, that asks some Indigenous people over 50 to stay at home.
Shahni Wellington

31 Mar 2020 - 6:05 PM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2020 - 1:35 PM

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, it can be easy to get lost in the daily announcements and messages from the government. 

With new terms like 'social distancing' and 'self-isolating', it's important to remember that these measures are being introduced for the safety of our communities and to give our public health system the best chance of keeping up with high demand. 

If you tuned into the Prime Minister's address on Sunday, you would have heard the latest update from the National Cabinet. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced a new two-person limit on indoor and outdoor gatherings, as well as asking Indigenous people over the age of 50 to stay indoors.

Not a lot of detail was provided on that last part in the address, so NITV is answering some of the questions you might have. 

What was announced?

During his speech on Sunday, the Prime Minister made comments regarding 'vulnerable people.' The highest rate of fatalities for coronavirus is among older people, particularly those with other serious health conditions or a weakened immune system.

"People aged 70 and over should stay at home and self-isolate for their own protection to the maximum extent practicable," said the Prime Minister. 

"These arrangements should also apply to those with chronic illness over 60 and Indigenous persons over the age of 50."

Mr Morrison said the health advice isn't based on those groups being carriers of COVID-19, but instead on their vulnerability to the virus, and is limiting their interaction with others in the community as a precaution. While it isn't compulsory, the Prime Minister has labelled it as 'strong advice.'

The Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, has been contacted for comment.

Does this affect me?

Clarification received from the Prime Minister's office showed that the advice to self-isolate applies to Indigenous people that are 50 years and older that also have one or more chronic health conditions.

Chronic health conditions include heart diseases, chronic renal failure, diabetes, liver diseases, chronic lower respiratory disease (including asthma), cerebrovascular diseases and cancer, but it's best to ask your GP if you are unsure.

The age bracket of 50 and over is based on advice given to the National Cabinet by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).

While we're still investigating the details behind the advice, the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and the alarming rates of chronic disease for Indigenous people provide a bit of context.

Chronic diseases are the major causes of morbidity and mortality among Australian and Torres Strait Islander people.

The latest statistics in the 2020 Close the Gap report stated life expectancy was 71.6 years for Indigenous males and 75.6 years for Indigenous females. In comparison, the non-Indigenous life expectancy at birth was 80.2 years for males and 83.4 years for females.

This gives background on why the age bracket may be lower for Indigenous people.

If you don't have a chronic health condition, you still have to abide by other measures such as the national two-person limit and other regulations that your state or territory government may be enforcing.

I'm in this boat - what am I supposed to do?

To keep it simple, the best approach is to stay at home. Vulnerable people are being asked to isolate themselves indoors as protection "to the maximum extent practicable."

In his address on Sunday, the Prime Minister advised: "This does not mean that they cannot go outside."

"They can go outside and be accompanied by a support person for the purposes of getting some fresh air, some recreation. But they should limit contact with others as much as possible."

If you need to leave the house for necessities like groceries or medication, there are options available. You can find out more by calling the national Coronavirus hotline on 1800 020 080.

What about work?

This is a bit tricky and will vary depending on your role and employer. 

The Australian government has advised that all vulnerable people, including Indigenous people 50 and over with a chronic illness, should be staying indoors. Clarification from the Prime Minister's office advised that those who undertake essential work must take a risk assessment.

It advised the following:

  • Risk needs to be assessed and mitigated with consideration of the characteristics of the worker, the workplace and the work.
  • This includes ensuring vulnerable people are redeployed to non-customer based roles where possible.
  • Where risk cannot be appropriately mitigated, employers and employees should consider alternative arrangements to accommodate a workplace absence.
  • Special provisions apply to essential workers who are at higher risk of serious illness and, where the risk cannot be sufficiently mitigated, should not work in high-risk settings.

Some workplaces provide special leave if you need to self-isolate. There is also financial support available for workers affected by COVID-19. You can find out here if you are eligible.

NITV has contacted the Australian Council of Trade Unions to see what more advice can be provided, and what your rights are.

NITV has also reached out to the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, who is a 67-year-old Noongar, Yamatji and Wongi man, and asked whether he will be adhering to the advice.

A spokesperson for the Minister said he intends to work from home where possible; however, some functions of being a Cabinet Minister will require work from his Electorate Office. The spokesperson assured NITV that measures had been put in place to adhere to the strict social distancing requirements.

Will I be fined or put in jail if I don't follow the advice?

There's been a lot of talk about fines for those who do not adhere to the new restrictions. Currently, there is national 'strong guidance' for all Australians to stay home unless to:

  • Shop for what you need - food and necessary supplies.
  • Medical or health care needs, including compassionate requirements.
  • Exercise in compliance with the public gathering requirements.
  • Work and study if you can't work or learn remotely.
  • Donate blood.
  • Access public services such as welfare or domestic violence support.

When it comes to indoor and outdoor gatherings, it's up to individual states and territories to whether they choose to mandate or enforce this requirement. 

In New South Wales, for example, people can now face six months in jail and fines of up to $11,000 for breaching regulations aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

There is currently no cure or vaccine for COVID-19, or immunity in the community, so we must all do our best to keep each other safe.

The National Cabinet has agreed to meet again on Friday 3 April 2020.