Tasmanians living with disability are feeling ‘anxious and forgotten’ as state records widespread community transmission

Elena Macdonald says she hasn't lived "much of a life" since many of the COVID restrictions Tasmanians were used to living with fell away and the idea of casual contacts was ditched.

Key points:

  • Tasmanians living with disability worry they've been forgotten under the government's new approach to COVID
  • Advocates say more information needs to be made available to the community about their specific circumstances
  • The Health Department says people's best defense against COVID is practicing COVID safe behaviour

The 22-year-old lives with a number of complex chronic illnesses which impact her health and compromise her immune system.

She knows her underlying conditions mean there is a chance COVID could make her very unwell. 

"I'm pretty terrified and feeling unsafe really. I don't really go anywhere. I'm pretty much living in lockdown," they said. 

The effects of long COVID, which are still being studied, are also something they have been forced to consider.

"To have another complex illness compounded on top of what is already complicated is terrifying," she said. 

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic Elena Macdonald and her mother are refraining from physical contact as part of their COVID-safe plan.(Supplied: Elena Macdonald)

Elena's mum works at the state's biggest hospital. The pair are refraining from physical contact to help reduce the possibility of transmission.

"It's not really possible in one house but I guess we don't really have physical contact at the moment. When she gets home from work she takes off her uniform at the front door."

Diabetic Peter Manaena, 63, is leading a life of self-prescribed isolation, too — he only leaves home for the essentials. 

Mr Manaena said he felt concerned when state and territory leaders and health authorities described the Omicron variant as "mild" when even a flu can make him "very ill".

Like Elena, he said he was not willing to "test" what COVID would do to him. 

"I'm frustrated. I'm not scared, I'm not panicking," he said.

"Personally, I feel like no one cares about anyone anymore, especially people like me. 

"I thought when we went into lockdown and we left behind all the things we went without, we were trying to protect everyone and not leave anyone behind and now it seems to be that the economy matters."

The reopening of Tasmania's borders to COVID hotspots has been especially worrying for people with health conditions and those living with disability.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)People feeling 'anxious and forgotten'

Disability advocates have been vocal about the effects of allowing widespread community transmission. 

Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby founder Kristen Desmond said people were feeling "anxious and forgotten". 

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

Ms Desmond also said there was a lack of accessible information those with a disability could rely on. 

"At the moment, Omicron isn't mild for them … the reality is that it is significant for them," she said.

"The best way that people with a disability can stay safe is to have free access to rapid antigen testing, to have fact sheets that tell them what happens when their carer tests positive for COVID-19 and they can't get another carer," she said.

"What happens for a carer when a person with a disability tests positive for COVID and just can't isolate, it's just not possible?

"We have one of the highest rates per capita of people with disability and yet at the moment there isn't any information coming out, and support for those people [to] help them understand what they need to do."

Disability advocate Kristen Desmond says there's a lack of reliable, accessible information about COVID-19.(ABC News: Craig Heerey)

Ms Desmond said there was also a lack of protocol when it came to carers requiring tests before spending time with someone with a disability or suppressed immune system.

"With the new definition that goes with a close contact, if a disability support worker works with someone for two hours, they're not classified as a close contact even though they may be doing a whole lot of personal care."

She said the government's decision not to list exposure sites was making it harder for carers to work out whether they were putting someone else at risk. 

Health Department to meet with disability advocates

A Health Department spokesman said department representatives were meeting with disability representatives this week to seek input into the state's COVID response. 

The easing of travel restrictions has left some Tasmanians too worried to leave their homes.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

"Should a person with disability need to access rapid antigen tests because they are symptomatic or a close contact, they should contact the Public Health Hotline and request a RAT to be delivered to their home, noting their disability and inability to access from a distribution site," the spokesman said. 

"Rapid antigen tests for asymptomatic screening purposes will be available for specified concession card holders from pharmacies under a Commonwealth distribution program in the next fortnight."

According to the spokesman, now that that COVID is widespread in Tasmania, listing of exposure sites would no longer provide a reliable indication of where there was risk of COVID.

"It is important to assume that there may be persons who are undiagnosed cases of COVID in any Tasmanian location," the spokesman said. 

"The best defence against COVID remains vaccination and following COVID safe behaviours."

Want more Tasmanian news?

Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.

Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 2 minutes 37 seconds2m 37s What to do if you're unwell and suspect you have COVID but can't get a test.What you need to know about coronavirus:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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