COTA Queensland has made a submission to this inquiry which addressed several COVID-19 related issues. The core issue addressed in the submission is safeguarding human rights which is outlined below. A full copy of the submission can be found at www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/committees/HCDSDFVPC/2020/COVID-19/submissions/006.pdf
COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the lives of all Queenslanders – actions undertaken by the Queensland Government, health care workers and the broader community have ensured that to-date the numbers infected have not been as high as originally forecast. It is hoped that a continued cautious approach to re-opening the community and the economy will ensure the future spread of this COVID-19 is eliminated. COTA Queensland believes that more community participative planning and preparation needs to be undertaken to better safeguard Queenslanders from future pandemics once the threat from COVID-19 is fully addressed and to protect the human rights of all Queenslanders.
Safeguarding Human Rights during COVID-19
Older Queenslanders were thrust to the forefront of battling this pandemic given the reported greater risks of them getting seriously ill from this virus. Those seniors with pre-existing medical conditions were reported to be more likely to become infected. Older Queenslanders were given the message through the media that being infected with COVID-19 was a virtual death sentence. This was reinforced by the reporting from other countries such as Italy that showed high numbers of older people dying each day coupled with a shortage of intensive care capacity and the rationing of access with preference being given to younger victims.
COTA Queensland is highly concerned that the rationing of access to urgently required healthcare to seriously ill people over 65 years of age could be considered during a pandemic.
The Office of the High Commissioner, Human Rights provides the following guidance in respect to older persons:
- Older persons have the same rights as any other age group, and they should be protected equally during the pandemic. Special attention should be paid to the particular risks faced by older persons, including isolation and neglect resulting from physical distancing and age-based discrimination in access to medical treatment and other support.
- Ensure that medical decisions are based on individualized clinical assessments, medical need, ethical criteria and on the best available scientific evidence and not on age or disability.
In Queensland we are fortunate that the Queensland Human Rights Act came into effect in January 2020, this Act should hopefully protect older Queenslanders from health care rationing based on age. Section 37 of the Act provides for the right to health services. Section 37(1) Every person has the right to access health services without discrimination. Section 37(2) A person must not be refused emergency medical treatment that is immediately necessary to save the persons life or to prevent serious impairment to the person. 
COTA Queensland accepts that situations may arise that necessitate the limitation of rights, however, at no time should such a limitation have an adverse health or safety impact on any individual or be based on the age of an individual.