SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s federal government will offer extra payments to aged care staff as over 1,200 nursing homes deal with COVID-19 outbreaks that have caused hundreds of deaths of elderly residents this year and staff shortages.
There is growing concern over the impact of the Omicron variant outbreak on elderly Australians living in residential care homes, as the pandemic in the wider community peaks.
On Sunday, 31 out of 52 deaths from the virus reported by New South Wales, were aged care residents.
National health data shows 389 aged care residents died of COVID-19 in January, and there are 1,261 active outbreaks involving 9,600 aged care residents and over 14,000 staff.
The operator of a major aged care network, Baptistcare, has warned thousands of residents were locked down in rooms, unable to receive visits from family, amid staffing shortages.
Two extra payments of up to A$400($281) will be made in February and May to aged care staff involved in cleaning, food services or direct care, in a policy measure worth A$209 million, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.
“None of our health outcomes would be possible without the hard work, long hours and dedicated care offered by our frontline health and aged care workforce,” Morrison said in a statement.
“Their resilience over the past two years has been inspiring,” he added.
The payment boost to aged care came on the same day a widely watched poll found voter confidence in Morrison’s ability to lead the nation out of the COVID-19 pandemic had fallen behind the opposition Labor leader.
Morrison’s approval rating dropped 5 points to 39%, its lowest level in nearly two years as he faces heat just months out from a federal election, the Newspoll conducted for The Australian newspaper showed on Monday.[L1N2UA0GC]
In January, Morrison said his government was adopting a “push through” approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of returning to lockdowns, even as case numbers surged past 1 million as the Omicron variant spread across the populous eastern states.
Australia reported its lowest COVID-19 deaths in two weeks on Monday, 44.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)