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Statement from the Honourable Tony Pagone QC relating to the COVID-19 outbreak in aged care facilities

It is important that I correct some public expectations that may inadvertently have arisen following statements which have been made over the last few days.

The impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s aged care sector is a national tragedy. It is a human tragedy. At the moment, that tragedy is unfolding daily.

It is important for the public to understand that this Royal Commission is not able, and is not intending, to conduct a full inquiry into that impact. We simply do not have the resources or time to conduct an inquiry that would do justice to the issues which have arisen so far and continue to change and develop. The issues associated with the impacts of COVID-19 in aged care warrant an inquiry of their own.

A telling illustration of the human tragedy and the changing circumstances is the situation in Victoria. At the beginning of July there had been no COVID-19 related deaths associated with residential aged care in Victoria. There were two active cases and six recoveries. By 29 July 2020, there were 440 active cases and 47 deaths. Only three residents have recovered. The first death did not occur until 11 July 2020.

Much has changed since the announcement on 14 May that the Royal Commission would inquire into certain issues arising from the responses of the sector and the government to COVID-19 with a focus on lessons learnt from the COVID-19 response.

Our present inquiry, over about 3 days of hearing commencing on 10 August 2020, will look at lessons to be learnt about the level of preparedness for a major infectious disease outbreak in aged care and whether the human response to COVID-19 balanced appropriately the needs of all of those affected.

Our inquiries may reveal, as seems likely, that there needs to be a fuller and more forensic inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 in aged care. Such an inquiry would need adequate time and resources extending beyond the time frame available to us. It will be for government to determine if such an inquiry is to be undertaken.