More Australian Defence Force personnel could be deployed to COVID-19 stricken aged care facilities if the crisis in the sector escalates, Defence Minister Peter Dutton says.
Up to 1700 defence troops will be sent into facilities in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia this week to help the care homes deal with virus-related staff shortages.
The sector has been hit with large numbers of infections linked to the Omicron variant, while staff have been dealing with shortages and a lack of protective equipment and rapid antigen tests.
“We will do more if required, the prime minister’s been very clear about us making sure that people are treated with dignity,” Mr Dutton told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
“If we need more we will do more, but we’ve sent planners to stabilise the situation.”
Mr Dutton defended the decision to wait to send in defence medical personnel, indicating planning was already in place in the sector.
There have been more than 500 deaths linked to COVID-19 in aged care since the start of the year.
“In aged care each year, there are about 1000 people a week who die – that number hasn’t increased over the course of COVID,” he said.
“They’re dying with COVID not from COVID in many instances.”
Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said the sector was thankful for the ADF personnel.
“The big issue we’ve got is that these issues around staff numbers and staffing levels are not new,” he told the Nine Network.
“We thank the government for the ADF personnel right now, but we need to get back to fixing the fundamentals, ensuring that we have enough staff who are adequately skilled and qualified and appropriately paid.”
It comes as the federal government paves the way for international tourists to return to Australia from February 21, after nearly two years of closed borders.
Travellers will need to be double vaccinated to enter the country.
The decision announced on Monday has been welcomed by the tourism sector, which has been struggling due to COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures.
Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond said operators needed support to get back up and running.
“One of the first parts of the puzzle is sending the message we are open,” she told the Nine Network.
“That is going to be the first part of that exercise, Tourism Australia will be working with the destination agencies at state levels to make that happen.”
Australia recorded more than 22,000 new COVID-19 cases and 46 deaths from the virus on Monday.
On Monday night the first shipment of Novavax vaccines arrived in Australia, ahead of the start of the rollout of the jabs on February 21.
More than three million doses of the protein-based vaccine landed in Sydney after being transported from Singapore.