COVID deaths in Australian aged care pass 2021 toll

More people have died in aged care so far this year from COVID-19 than in all of 2021 – as calls grow for Australia’s aged care minister to resign

More people have died in residential aged care from COVID-19 in just two months than during the whole of 2020, a Senate committee has been told.

Since the start of the year, 691 aged care residents have died from the virus, as Omicron cases surged across the country.

That’s compared with 685 aged care fatalities during the whole of 2020 and 282 throughout all of 2021.

Despite the large numbers of deaths, Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck has slapped down calls for him to resign.

Richard Colbeck says the number of deaths in aged care is not an indication of performance

During a fiery round of questioning at Senate estimates, Senator Colbeck said the number of deaths in aged care from the virus were not an indication of performance.

‘We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and the completely tragic result of that is people will catch the virus across all parts of the community, and tragically, some will die,’ he told the hearing on Wednesday.

‘The performance in managing COVID-19 has improved.’

Senator Colbeck said he had not offered his resignation to Prime Minister Scott Morrison over issues in aged care.

After the government announced up to 1700 Australian Defence Force personnel would be sent into aged care to assist the workforce, just 106 had been deployed.

As of Wednesday, ADF members had been deployed to 21 residential aged care facilities out of the 2900 across the country.

There were 25 ADF personnel deployed in Queensland, 12 in NSW, 45 in Victoria, 18 in South Australia and six in Western Australia.

Senator Colbeck said the government had moved quickly to implement new rules on furloughing staff following workplace shortages in aged care.

Health officials said the situation was exacerbated in early January due to large numbers of COVID cases in aged care and staff also being on leave.

It was revealed there were 915 COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care facilities across the country.

Of those, 479 have been in NSW, 148 in Victoria, 176 in Queensland, 85 in South Australia, three in Tasmania, six in the Northern Territory, 16 in the ACT and two in Western Australia.

Health officials also told estimates that between four and five per cent of the aged care workforce had missed shifts due to testing positive for COVID-19.

However, officials did not state how many facilities across the country had faced staffing issues due to the pandemic and rising Omicron infections.

The aged care minister said while there were issues in the sector that needed to be addressed, he criticised people who wanted to ‘talk down’ aged care.

‘Every time you tell (workers) how bad it is, you’re saying how bad they are,’ Senator Colbeck said.

‘Mistakes have occurred and we’ve acknowledged that.’

The head of Australia’s vaccine rollout, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, told the Senate committee all aged care facilities had been visited for residents to receive their booster doses.

About 450 sites have also had a second visit by the vaccination teams.

He said 80 per cent of the country’s population over 70 had received a booster dose.

‘The efforts for the booster in residential aged care and disability care is the highest priority,’ he said.